Black Forest Barley Risotto

Give your vego risotto more oomph by swapping rice for barley, and loading the dish up with umami-rich flavours.

photography by the delightful Carmen Zammit

The brilliance of a barley risotto is in how surprisingly ‘meaty’ it is, for even the most carnivorous of folk. Texturally, it’s got much more chew than rice when cooked, which makes every mouthful feel more substantial and satisfying. Team this with umami-rich mushrooms, black garlic and parmesan, and you’ve got a perfect package to pull out for your next dinner party or family meal. You can even turn the whole thing plant-based, by subbing in vegan butter and a plant-based hard cheese.

Black Forest Pearl Barley Risotto

A specialty of north-eastern Italy, and better known as Orzotto for those in the know - a portmanteau of Orzo and Risotto, this dish is full of flavour and perfect for a blustery winter's day. Unlike rice, barley holds up better to being reheated – even in a risotto like this. Just stir through another nub of black garlic butteronce warmed, and finish with another cloud of parmesan. It's protein-rich, so satisfying for plant-based eaters and carnivores alike.


Mushroom & Green stuff risotto

  • ¼ cup approx. 10g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 120 g parmesan finely grated (plus rind if available)
  • 5 cups 1.5L vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for finishing
  • 2-3 shallots finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 bunch parsley leaves removed, stems reserved
  • 200 g baby spinach washed and spun
  • 100 g fresh walnuts plus extra for garnish
  • 1 1/2 cups 300g pearl barley
  • ½ cup 125ml white wine
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Black Garlic & Porcini Butter

  • 125 g butter softened
  • 4 cloves black garlic finely chopped
  • Rehydrated porcini from the stock above


  • Place stock, porcini mushrooms, parsley stalks and parmesan rind (if using) in a saucepan. Simmer together while you prepare the rest of the ingredients – approx. 15 minutes should be enough time to rehydrate the mushrooms and add dimension to the stock.
  • Pick out some of the prettiest parsley leaves for garnish and reserve. Place the rest of the parsley leaves and spinach into a food processor and blitz with garlic cloves, walnuts and half of the grated parmesan. Reserve.
  • In a wide heavy-bottomed pan, heat olive oil with shallots and sweat until translucent. Pop in the barley and stir about until glossy. Pour in the wine and crank the heat until the wine reduces and your eyes stop stinging (1-2 minutes).
  • Scoop the rehydrated porcini and parmesan rind out of the stock. Pour into the pan with the barley and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and let it burble away for 35-40 minutes until the barley is puffed up but still al dente, and the liquid is almost entirely reduced.
  • Once the porcini has cooled, chop together with the black garlic and stir through softened butter with a flexible spatula.
  • Fold the green paste through the risotto as soon as the heat is off. Blob in 1/3 of the black garlic butter and close the lid for 5 minutes to let the risotto rest. Taste and correct for seasoning.
  • Serve with a knub of black garlic butter, grated parmesan, parsley leaves, walnuts, a drizzle of olive oil, salt flakes and freshly cracked black pepper.


Pearl barley is hulled, so doesn’t need to be pre-soaked prior to cooking.
You'll find black garlic and dried porcini at specialty grocers.
Feel free to top your risotto with finely shaved fresh mushrooms too, if you're that way inclined. 

This recipe was produced in partnership with the Grains & Legumes Council. You can find more like it, and more about the goodness of whole-grains and legumes by clicking here