Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Healthier Risotto that Doesn't Compromise on Flavor?

Recently, I began taking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education (recreational for now). It has been a wonderful experience and I’ve met many amazing people—from the instructors to the sous chefs (Shout out to Jesus!) and students.
One of my classes was on risotto. Now let me tell you something. I love risotto. I try to make it as much as possible because risotto is definitely a dish you get better at over time.  So, when I saw this class, I quickly signed up.  I also love mushrooms, so when I was tasked with preparing the Mushroom risotto (more on that below), I was on cloud nine!
Our instructor was the incredibly talented Peter Berley. Chef Berley was former executive chef at the world-renowned Angelica Kitchen, an organic, plant-based restaurant. He has also written numerous books, including the recent Flexitarian Table: Inspired, Flexible Meals for Vegetarians, Meat Lovers, and Everyone in Between, which is an amazing book that not only helps meat-lovers and vegetarians share meals together in a way that doesn’t require the vegetarian to eat side dishes or the host to cook a separate meal, it also helps you think seasonally(Remember, not only does choosing in-season fruits and vegetables give you more flavor, in-season produce  also contains more nutrients)
I’ve worked with Chef Berley before and I was excited, not only to try out different risotto dishes but to discover different grains (farro, barley, rye berries) to use to prepare “risotto style” dishes. To be a true risotto, a dish requires a short-grain rice such as the popular Arborio. However, you can prepare risotto-like dishes using the same or similar methods.
Here are a few steps to making a typical risotto:

  • Start with a sofrito- an aromatic (usually onions) and fat (cooking oil) in your pot
  • Toast the rice
  • Add acid (wine , lemon)
  • (At this point, you can actually stop cooking and refrigerate for 48 hours before continuing. This is how restaurants do it.)
  • Simmering liquid should be on the side (stock, water)
  • Add liquid in a cup or ladle at a time, letting it get absorbed nearly entirely before adding more
  • Next comes “additions” about 2/3 or ¾ of the way through (shrimp, duck confit, spinach, etc.)
  • Now you add the “enrichments” (oil, butter, crème fraiche, goat cheese, cheddar)
  • Last is the “flourish”(chopped parsley, toasted almonds)
*For even cooking, use a wide and short pot to cook your risotto.
*While meat or vegetable stock is best for flavor, water is perfectly fine to use.

The mushroom “risotto” is prepared a little differently because it uses barley instead of rice. This is a healthier alternative to the rice and can definitely make you feel a little better about eating a normally heavy dish.
Here’s the best way to tackle this dish: Start the barley soaking the night before as well as make the mushroom stock.  Keep it in the refrigerator. Before you get started the next day, take the stock out of the fridge and bring to room temperature.
In class, we roasted the mushrooms instead of sautéing them in the pan. I think it adds more depth of flavor. Just get your mushrooms cleaned and sliced and get them in the oven first. Then you can continue getting everything else set up while they roast.
Wild Mushroom and Barley Risotto copyright Peter Berley
Yield: Serves 4
5 c rich porcini stock
1 c pearl barley
1 ½ tsp sea salt plus more to taste
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 c onion, finely diced
1 lb mixed mushrooms such as cremini and shitake, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
1 T unsalted butter
½ c freshly grated cheese plus more for serving
1  T parsley, finely chopped

Serve the risotto sprinkled with chopped parsley. 
  1. Combine 2 cups water and barley in bowl and soak for 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. Drain,
  2. Bring the mushroom stock to a simmer.
  3. Heat the oil in a heavy 3- or 4- quart saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and sauté 5 to 7 minutes until soft. Add the mushrooms and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Sauté 2 to 3 minutes until juicy and soft. (alternately, you can toss mushrooms with 1 tablespoon olive oil spread on a baking sheet and roast at 425F for 20 minutes )
  4. Stir in the barley (add roasted mushrooms, if that’s how you prepared) and add the stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes stirring occasionally until most of the liquid is absorbed and the barley is tender. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter and cheese. Season with black pepper and additional salt to taste.
  5. Serve the risotto sprinkled with chopped parlsey
Rich Porcini Stock
2 oz dried porcini mushrooms (about 1 c)
6 c warm water
1 c dry red wine
1 medium red onion peeled and roughly chopped
1 stalk celery with leaves, coarsely chopped
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
1 head garlic, halved
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig flat leaf parsley
1 sprig fresh sage

  1. Cover the mushroom with 2 cups of water and set aside for 20 minutes or until softened. Rub the mushrooms with your fingers to loosen the grit and lift out of the water. Transfer the mushrooms to a 3-quart pot. Strain the liquid into the pot. Add the vegetables, herbs, wine and water.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer partially covered for 1 hour.
  3. Strain the stock. You should have 5 cups. If not, add more water or boil until reduced. The stock can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen up to 2 months.

This dish was a filling, comforting meal that never felt too heavy. It’s a great way to “health up” a fatty dish and if you want to make it even healthier, omit the butter at the end and substitute fat-free parmesan for the cheese.


P.S. I'm really excited for the next blog... kale chips! These little crisps are a healthy, tasty, innovative (and trendy!) alternative to classic potato chips and really easy to make. Stay tuned...


  1. Sounds amazing. I am excited for you to be able to attend the various culinary classes, I bet it is a lot of fun.

  2. Very nice recipe. Thanks for sharing!