Having just hit my first significant porcini hauls of the year, I rushed home to cook a risotto, only to find I was out of short-grain rice. In desperation I tried the only alternative to hand – pearl barley – and the result was superb! This somehow seems far more British than the conventional versions and the root vegetables give an earthy hint which is only enhanced by a good mix of woodland fungi . . .
4 Rashers smoked streaky bacon
1 Small leek
1 Clove garlic
2 Carrots, diced
400g Assorted diced root vegetables (e.g. butternut, celeriac, beetroot, turnip, parsnip, carrot)
400g Mushrooms (ideally wild, but shitake or chestnut will do)
250g Pearl barley
125g Strong cheese (a good organic Welsh farmhouse is ideal)
1 Small glass dry sherry
500ml Porcini stock (c. 30g dried porcini soaked in boiling water for 20 minutes)
Saute the bacon for two or three minutes until the fat begins to melt. Then add the vegetables and fry gently until they begin to soften. Add the coarsely ripped up mushrooms. Mix in the barley, stir to coat with the juices, then add the sherry, stock and half the grated cheese. Season with salt and black pepper, before bringing to the boil. Then cover and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally and keeping an eye open for moisture (pearl barley absorbs more liquid and swells up more than short-grain rice). Serve garnished with the rest of the cheese, grated pepper and chopped parsley or chives.