Orzotto is to “orzo”—”barley,” in Italian—as risotto is to “riso,” or rice: both are cooked slowly over low heat with the gradual addition of liquid to bring out the starch in the grain. Barley has a chewier texture than risotto and makes a hearty vegetarian entrée. In my travels through northeastern Italy, I found orzotto prepared with numerous seasonal ingredients. Mushrooms were one of the most popular—and most delicious since the earthy flavor perfectly complements the rustic nature of the barley. In autumn, look for chanterelle, oyster, and hen of the woods varieties, although standard supermarket button or crimini mushrooms will work just as well.
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 6 tablespoons butter, divided
- 12 ounces assorted mushrooms, sliced
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 6 cups vegetable broth, heated
- 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- In advance, place the barley in a medium bowl and cover with water. Let soak for 1 hour and drain.
- Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook and stir until tender, about 6–8 minutes.
- Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a large pot over medium heat.
- Add the onion, cooking and stirring until soft, about 10 minutes.
- Add the barley and cook and stir for 2 minutes to allow the grains to absorb the butter.
- Add the white wine; cook and stir until the liquid has been absorbed, about 2–3 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium-low. Add 1/2 cup warm vegetable broth. Cook and stir until the barley has absorbed most of the liquid. Continue stirring in broth, 1/2 cup at a time, until the barley is cooked, about 60–70 minutes.
- Stir in the mushrooms, cheese, parsley, and black pepper. Season to taste with salt.
Elisabeth Antoine Crawford is the author of Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy. The cookbook’s most recent awards include a bronze medal in ForeWord Review’s Book of the Year Awards and first runner-up in the Eric Hoffer Book Award. Formerly a contemporary dancer and Pilates instructor, Crawford is also the author of Balance on the Ball: Exercises Inspired by the Teachings of Joseph Pilates.