By Jessica Roy As I was perusing the contents of my cabinets this weekend, I stumbled upon some gorgeous and long-forgotten dried porcini mushrooms that I had brought back from Italy. Obviously, it was a sign from the food gods that mushrooms were meant to be my inspiration for this week's recipe.

Layered on top of that, the selection of fantastic wild mushrooms at my local farm store was fantastic, so let's just say this recipe was meant to be. To pay homage to the porcinis' roots and long journey from their home in Italy, a creamy risotto-style dish seemed most appropriate.

Since risotto is supposed to be made with a special starchy grain of Italian white rice, making it with anything else technically means it's not actually a risotto. Call it marketing if you will (since most people usually understand that a risotto dish will be creamy and delicious), but we'll borrow the name and make our dish "in the style of risotto" using some hearty barley as our grain of choice.

One of the most important things when cooking any grain is to use some sort of flavorful liquid rather than just water. Rather than using canned or boxed stock, it's really simple to make your own mushroom stock for this recipe on the spot. If you're using dried mushrooms, as I was in part, they will need to be reconstituted anyway, so just simmer them in water over low heat for about 15 minutes and voila! beautiful brown mushroom stock is born. The same goes for fresh mushrooms -- simmer the stems while you're prepping the rest of the ingredients.


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Feeling wild? Throw in an onion top, too.

Wild Mushroom & Spinach Barley Risotto

Ingredients

1/2 lb. assorted rest mushrooms, cleaned

5 cups water

1 small yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup pearled barley

2 cups fresh spinach leaves

2 Tbs. sherry

Pinch of nutmeg

Salt and pepper, as needed

Olive oil, as needed

1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese, or as desired

Remove the stems from the mushrooms, and place them in a saucepan along with 5 cups of water. Bring to a simmer, and cook over low heat while prepping the rest of the ingredients. Dice the rest of the mushrooms into bite sized pieces.

Add 2 Tbs. olive oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, stir in the diced onion and cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Add the garlic, and give a good stir. Pour in the barley, and toss with the onion and garlic and toast for 1-2 minutes until the barley smells slightly nutty, but is not browned.

Pour 2 cups of the simmering mushroom stock into the barley pan, give a good stir, and add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bring to a full boil, and then reduce heat to a low simmer, and continue to cook covered with a lid for 20 minutes, or until most of the water has been absorbed.

Increase the heat under the barley pan to medium-high, and begin to add the rest of the mushroom stock, 1 cup at a time, while stirring consistently every minute or so. When the liquid has just about evaporated, add the next cup of stock, and repeat until barley is creamy and tender, and all of the stock has been used. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, saute the mushrooms. Add 2 Tbs. olive oil to a saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and toss to coat in the oil. Allow to cook and brown for 3-4 minutes. Stir and flip the mushrooms, and continue to cook and brown for another 3-4 minutes. When the mushrooms are golden brown, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and deglaze the pan with 2 Tbs. sherry wine, scraping up brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Allow the liquid to cook off and evaporate, season to taste with additional salt and pepper, and remove the pan from heat.

When the barley has been cooked through, fold in the fresh spinach until it is just wilted. Season with a tiny pinch of nutmeg, and stir in shredded parmesan cheese. Serve a heaping portion of barley risotto with spinach, topped with a spoonful of the sautéed mushrooms.

Jessica Roy is a specialty chef and caterer, food writer and chef instructor, and owner of Shiso Kitchen in Somerville, where she teaches classes. Follow her at http://blogs.lowellsun.com/yourpersonalchef.