Autumn is here. The first signs came with the sweet scent of mulching leaves and the golden early morning sun last week. A couple of the smaller, over ripe tomatoes have started to rot on the vine, and we’ve just switched the central heating back on.
The summer had its last hurrah over the weekend, one last splash of hazy warmth before the rain sets in proper. I was overjoyed to see my huge and beautiful Black Russian tomatoes take on a deep burgundy hue as they sunbathed. In my mind they had already been consigned to a batch of green tomato chutney.
I’m craving something more comforting than the leaf salads that have been my suppers over the last few months, and this pearl barley risotto neatly fits the bill. Not quite the stodge of a pile of mashed potato but warming none the less. The barley gives this a more toothsome bite than rice and doesn’t demand that you spend hours ladling and stirring – the liquid can all be added at once. A lazy risotto then, but still delicious.
PEARL BARLEY RISOTTO WITH MUSHROOMS, LEEKS AND ROASTED GARLIC
2 whole heads of garlic, cloves separated, skin on
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp picked fresh thyme
½ small leek (white part only), finely chopped
150g mixed mushrooms (perhaps shitake, enoki, chanterelles or porcini), sliced
200g pearl barley, well rinsed in cold water and drained
800ml vegetable stock
2 tbsp mascarpone
25g parmesan, grated
Freshly ground black pepper
To decorate: micro leaf garlic chives (optional)
1) Toss the garlic cloves in a tablespoon of the olive oil and place in a shallow ovenproof dish. Bake for 25 minutes at 375f/190c/gas mark 5, then leave to cool. Slip each clove out of its papery sleeve and roughly chop.
2) Meanwhile, take two more tablespoons of the oil and fry the mushrooms in a large frying pan until golden brown, then set aside.
3) Using the same pan, heat the butter and the last of the oil and fry the leeks over a medium heat until they are soft and translucent. Add the pearl barley, thyme, garlic and stock, and leave to simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the barley is soft but still has a little bite in the centre. If the pan runs dry, add a little more water. Once cooked, stir in the mushrooms, parmesan and mascarpone, and season with a little black pepper.