When you think of risotto, perhaps you think of something thick, and creamy, and starchy and in the end a bit brick-like in the stomach. We're getting to that point in winter now when such things might start sounding a little less-good. Not the risotto part, of course, just the brick-like part. I've personally given up on winter, and started counting down the days until I can be truly happy again when going outside. And I've been craving lighter food, although we're still basically stuck with winter ingredients. Mushrooms pretty much save winter, as far as I'm concerned. R keeps talking about foraging for whild mushrooms in Norway, in the forests near where he grew up, where the poisonous ones, he claims, are actually red with white spots. Red with white spots. As though straight out of Mario Brothers Land. Nothing could be more perfect.
I'm sorry to say that these mushrooms weren't foraged from the forests of Norway, but found at the local produce stand. And I keep going on and on about the mushrooms because the mushroom risotto was so amazingly wonderful that I nearly forgot about the steak. If you wanted a meatless dish, you could literally forget about the steak yourself, as this risotto definitely stands on its own. R even called it the best risotto I've made so far. And the best part of that statement is that it's made with barley, not rice. And is still the superlative. If you haven't tried a risotto yet with an alternative grain, this is a great first introduction. Seasonal, delicious and virtuous, to see us through to spring.
Steak with Wild Mushroom Barley Risotto
Adapted from Cary Neff's Conscious Cuisine
For the Risotto:
3/4 cup barley
Oil for the pan
1/2 chapped yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 ounces fresh, wild mushrooms, whatever is available
1 bay leaf
3 1/2 cups vegetable stock, heated
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese
In a medium saucepan, toast 1/2 cup of the barley over medium heat until it's golden brown and nutty smelling. Stir fairly constantly so it doesn't burn for about 3-5 minutes. Remove the barley from the pan and set aside.
Coat the bottom of the same pan with oil and sauté the onion and garlic until softened but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook them for a minute more, then add back the toasted barley and the rest of the barley as well as the bay leaf.
Stir in 1/2 cup of the hot stock, and reduce the heat so the liquid simmers. Stir until the stock is absorbed into the barley, then continue it add the stock 1/2 cup at a time. Stir will between each addition, making sure the stock is absorbed before you add more. Continue cooking until the barley is tender, about 20-30 minutes.
Stir in the herbs and the cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaf, and place on serving plates.
For the steak:
4, 4 ounce fillet Mignon steaks
Olive oil for the pan
Salt and pepper
Tablespoon of mixed herbs, whatever you have on hand, really. A mixture of the same herbs used for the risotto would be fine.
Oven preheated to 400F.
Take the steaks out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Head a medium skillet over medium-high heat and add oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Season each side of the steaks well with salt and pepper and with the mixture of herbs. Sear the steaks on one side in the pan for about 2 minutes, then turn the steaks and sear again for 2 more minutes. Finish the steaks by placing them in the oven for about 8 minutes for medium rare (this will depend on the thickness of your steaks and the temperature of your oven).
Serve over a mound of Wild Mushroom Risotto
UPDATE: I should have mentioned this earlier, but I used the kind of quick-cooking rolled barley because that's all my stupid grocery store had. I'm sure you could also use pearl barley, and if you're really patient, the whole kind as well. I found that even the rolled kind worked fine and was able to absorb all of the stock while retaining some texture.