This super tasty pearl barley risotto made with spring asparagus and pioppino mushrooms is one of those dishes that makes the effort of preparing risotto so very worth it. Barley is cooked risotto-style in a rich beef broth which compliments the grains nutty taste perfectly. Together with garlic, shallots, thyme and parmesan this meatless main makes a delicious meal that the whole family will love.
The barley grains harmonize perfectly with mushrooms and asparagus – a delicious variant that is well worth trying!
Pearl barley risotto — a great alternative to traditional risotto
It’s wonderfully tasty while also being highly nutritious, and just like traditional risotto, this barley risotto is made by cooking the barley slowly and gradually in broth. You begin by cooking the barley in a mixture of sautéed shallots and garlic, followed by a little dry white wine (for extra flavor!) before adding a generous ladle or two of of hot broth. Unlike traditional risotto, the barley doesn’t need to be stirred constantly, but you do let the liquid to be absorbed, before adding more broth. You repeat this process until the barley is al dente and the mixture somewhat creamy. Of course, there is some time and effort involved, but it is very easy to make (AND it’s a deeply flavorful risotto that’s worth the wait!).
Pioppino mushrooms are the star for this savory risotto
For this pearl barley risotto recipe, I choose to use a less common mushroom that I have often seen at the farmer’s market. Its a popular wild mushroom in the Campania Region of Italy and is referred to as the chiodini or pioppini mushroom. It‘s also called shimeji or beech mushroom, which grows wild in the forests, at the base of trees, in Japan and parts of Asia.
These uniquely delicious tasting little mushrooms have a firm texture and rich, earthy and nutty flavor which pairs well with red meats and long simmering dishes, such as risotto. Some even say that their stems resemble asparagus when cooked, which makes it the perfect partner in a dish like this, where they share centre stage with spring asparagus.
It’s unlikely that you will find these little beauties at your local supermarket, but you may be lucky enough to find them at your local farmer‘s market. Since they grow in small clusters, they are sold pre-packaged for easy transport and storage. You‘ll want to store them in their original packaging, in the refrigerator, for up to one week.
If you like this pearl barley risotto, then also try:
- Beet and Barley Salad with Feta & Harissa Dressing
- Warm Mushroom Barley Salad with Herbs
- Barley Risotto with Feta and Kale
- Barley Bowl with Lemon-Spinach Pesto
- Root Vegetable Soup with Barley
Pearl Barley Risotto with Wild Mushrooms & Asparagus
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 300 g brown and white pioppino mushrooms (beech mushrooms), ends trimmed to separate (or other mushrooms, sliced)
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 1/4 cups pearl barley (250 g)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (125 ml)
- 4 cups beef broth, hot (1 Liter)
- 300 g green asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2,5 cm pieces
In a large, deep skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until lightly golden brown, about 7-8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Meanwhile, heat the beef broth in a saucepan and keep warm.
In the same skillet heat the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until starting to soften (but not browned), about 2-3 minutes. Add the thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper.
Add the barley and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until the wine is absorbed, about 3-4 minutes.
Add two ladles full of the hot beef broth (about 125 ml) and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced and nearly all of the broth has been absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1-2 ladles at a time, allowing it to cook until the liquid is absorbed before adding another more broth.
Tip: Adjust heat as required to retain a simmer. The mixture should be at a consistent simmer, but not a hard boil.
When adding the last round of broth, test the barley, it should be ALMOST al dente (after approximately 40 minutes). Once half of the liquid is absorbed, stir in the asparagus and mushrooms. Cover risotto with a lid and cook for about 5-7 minutes until asparagus has a desired firmness.
Tip: If the barley is not quite al dente than add an extra ladle of broth or hot water and cook a little longer BEFORE adding the asparagus and mushrooms.
When the asparagus is cooked, add the grated parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
Season with with more salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste. Serve with additional grated Parmesan. Enjoy!
For the best flavor, I like to use homemade beef broth or organic broth from BROX, which can be bought in a 5 litre box and stored in the fridge (unpaid mention). Otherwise, if using bouillon cubes, choose high-quality organic brand. The broth really elevates the flavor of this pearl barley risotto!
For a relaxing atmosphere in the kitchen I recommend my personal Elle Republic: Chilled Out Kitchen Tunes Playlist on Spotify.
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