Mark Bittman's Simple Risotto


By Alaina Sullivan


Traditional risotto calls for Arborio rice or one of its short-grained cousins; I decided to try it with barley. Risotto-style barley has a more toothsome bite than the rice-based versions, but the process is the same-a ritual of stirring, adding liquid, more stirring, adding more liquid until the consistency turns rich and creamy. The cooking process requires a bit of a watchful eye - a few too many minutes on the stovetop and the grain might get overcooked (you want it to retain a slight crunch). I prepared the barley according to the directions for "Simple Risotto" How to Cook Everything. I folded in a trio of cooked mushrooms (cremini, shitake and portabella), added fresh thyme to complement their earthiness, and finished off the dish with grated manchego to give it that classic creaminess.

Barley Risotto with Mushrooms, Manchego and Thyme

3.5 oz fresh shittake mushrooms
8 oz cremini mushrooms
6 oz sliced portabella caps
1/2 large onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tsp fresh thyme, chopped, plus more for garnish
4 fresh bay leaves
1 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup white wine
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup manchego, grated

Pre-Risotto Preparation:

1. Brush off your mushrooms. If the shittake caps are large, half or quarter them. Slice the cremini mushrooms and the portabella caps (or buy pre-sliced caps).

2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute mushrooms in olive oil, working in batches so as not to crowd the pan. Cook until the mushrooms are browned and soft. Remove from heat and cut the portabella slices into small pieces. Put all mushrooms in a bowl and set aside.

3. In a small saucepan, bring chicken stock to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer. Keep heat on low.

Simple Risotto Preparation (from How to Cook Everything):

1. Put 2 tablespoons butter or oil in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Add the rice (or barley) and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy and coated with butter or oil, 2 to 3 minutes. [At this point I added the freshly chopped thyme, bay leaves and garlic, cooking for an additional 1 minute.] Add a little salt and pepper, then the white wine. Stir and let the liquid bubble away.

3. Use a ladle and begin adding the stock, ½ cup or so at a time, stirring after each addition. When the stock is just about evaporated, add more. The mixture should be neither soupy nor dry. Keep the heat at medium to medium-high and stir frequently.

4. Begin tasting the rice (or barley) 20 minutes after you add it; you want it to be tneder but still with a tiny bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes to reach this stage. When it does, stir in the cooked mushrooms, with their juices, and at least ½ cup of Parmesan if you're using it. [I used manchego for my version.] Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve immediately, passing additional Parmesan at the table if you like.

Mark Bittman's award-winning How to Cook Everything has helped countless home cooks discover the rewards of simple cooking. Now the ultimate cookbook has been revised and expanded (almost half the material is new), making it absolutely indispensable for anyone who cooks-or wants to. With Bittman's straightforward instructions and advice, you'll make crowd-pleasing food using fresh, natural ingredients; simple techniques; and basic equipment. Even better, you'll discover how to relax and enjoy yourself in the kitchen as you prepare delicious meals for every occasion.