Spring Barley Risotto – Yummy Classic Twist

Spring Barley Risotto

Spring Barley Risotto is a yummy twist on a classic rice-based dish. Want a taste? Check it out and Share the recipe!

Spring Barley Risotto

Risotto is a northern Italian rice dish cooked in a broth to a creamy consistency. Typically served as a first course, risotto can feature a variety of different herbs, vegetables or cheeses. When I make risotto, I serve it as a side dish, with some simply prepared meat or seafood. Sometimes I top it with sauteed shrimp or sausage and enjoy it as a main course. This dish, which features bacon and cheese can also stand alone as an entree.

Move Over Rice – Make Room for Barley!

In this delicious variation of a classic recipe, barley is used in place of arborio rice. Italian’s actually call this barley-based version – orzotto. Who knew that barley was not just for making vegetable beef soup?! The pearl barley used in this recipe has a wonderful chewy, nutty texture which I love. While it’s not an easy to find ingredient, I have consistently found it in the bulk food area at Lunds.

Bursting with Spring Flavor

The tarragon and baby peas in this recipe are both nods to Spring. I have also substituted button mushrooms and morels for the shiitake mushrooms (morels are another harbinger of Spring!) I recognize that not everyone has a stash of dried morels. In fact I must pay homage to my hubby Mike, who scoured the woodlands in Springs past for these coveted wild mushrooms. His years of tireless foraging and dehyrdating have provided me with a gourmet option for many mushroom-based dishes. Morels are available seasonally at farmers markets and higher-end grocery stores. Shiitakes, which are called for in the recipe, would also be delicious.

Risotto is a little time consuming to make, but well worth the effort when you have the time. So grab a glass a wine, turn on some good tunes or invite someone to keep you company in the kitchen, and cook up a batch of Spring Barley Risotto.

Spring Barley Risotto

Serving Size: 4-6 servings


  • 5 slices bacon (about 6 oz), diced
  • 5 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced thin (I have also used morels and button mushrooms)
  • 1/2 c. dry white wine, divided
  • 7 c. chicken or vegetable broth (original recipe called for 4 c. but I found it needed 7 c.)
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1 c. pearl barley
  • 2-3 tsp. tarragon, minced, plus additional for garnish
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 c. frozen baby peas, thawed
  • 1/2 c. grated Fontina cheese, plus more for garnish


  • Cook bacon in large deep skillet over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until crisp. Stir frequently with wooden spoon to break up pieces and to cook evenly. Drain bacon and set aside. Reserve 1 tbsp of drippings. Do not clean skillet.
  • Return drippings to skillet and add mushrooms; cook over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until mushrooms are soft. Add 1/4 c. wine to the skillet and continue cooking over high heat, scraping up any dark spots from bottom of pan. Reduce wine for 3 to 5 minutes or until mushrooms have absorbed most of the liquid. Remove mushrooms from skillet and set aside.
  • Add butter to clean large, deep skillet over medium heat. When butter is melted, add the shallot. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 3 to 5 minutes or until shallot is soft. Stir in the barley and cook, continuing to stir occasionally, for about 3 minutes or until barley is coated with butter and appears glossy. Stir in tarragon, garlic, salt and pepper and cook for an additional minute. Increase heat to medium high and stir in remaining 1/4 c. wine and simmer until wine is gone.
  • Keeping heat at medium high, use a ladle to add about 1/2 c. broth to barley, stirring after the addition. When the stock is just about evaporated, add more. Stir frequently. Continue in this manner, ladling broth and stirring the barley so that the mixture is consistently never soupy or dry.
  • Begin tasting the risotto about 30 minutes after you started adding the both. Barley should be tender with a little bite. It may take about 45-50 minutes to reach this stage (mine took 50 minutes.) When this stage is reached, stir in peas, and cook an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in bacon, mushrooms and their juices, and the cheese. Garnish with additional chopped tarragon and grated Fontina cheese. Serve immediately. Now enjoy, because you've earned it!


Adapted from April 2015 Star Tribune Spring Barley Risotto recipe, with credit to Patrice Johnson.



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