Mushroom, spinach and goats cheese pearl barley risotto

Love risotto in winter? Feel guilty about all that starchy rice and Parmesan? This pearl barley risotto is a healthier option and it’s also delicious. I tried this mushroom and spinach pearl barley risotto the other day and my boyfriend gave it the enthusiastic thumbs up, so now it’s a regular on cold wintry nights. I haven’t tried to make pearl barley with anything else but I’ve seen recipes for it with roasted pumpkin, which I imagine would be rather tasty.

On a separate note, I went mushroom foraging this week at Delheim Wine Estate and was treated to a three-course mushroom lunch. I’m now so into mushrooms I’m cooking them for practically ever supper. No more button mushrooms for me – it’s all about shiitake, enoki and shimeji from now on. All these exotics are taking me back to when I lived in Taiwan and there were no buttons to be found. Instead we bought strange-looking mushrooms from the supermarket and veggie market, with no idea what they were (although they were yummy).

Mushroom, spinach and goats cheese pearl barley risotto

Serves four

  • 2 big leeks or 5 baby leeks, chopped
  • One tablespoon crushed garlic
  • A big pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional)
  • 400 g of mushrooms (be adventurous – I used a mixture of portabellini, shimeji, shiitaki and enoki), chopped roughly
  • 200 ml white wine
  • 200 g pearl barley
  • 750 ml warm vegetable stock
  • 150 g spinach
  • 50 g (or more, up to you) chevin/goats cheese (I like one encrusted with garlic and herbs)
  • A handful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Fry the leeks in a glug of olive oil until they’ve started to soften, and then add the garlic (and chilli) and fry for a further minute or two. Add the chopped mushrooms at this point, keep the heat on medium, and cook until the mushrooms start to emit water (about five minutes). Add the pearl barley and mix well to coat it, and cook for a minute or two. Pour in the white wine, turn up the heat a bit and wait until the wine has reduced by about half. Now add the stock slowly, ladleful by ladleful until it’s all used up. Stir for a bit, turn the heat down so the risotto is simmering and put the lid on. Go and relax for thirty minutes, giving it a stir every now and then. When the pearl barley is tender and the stock is almost all absorbed, stir in the spinach leaves and continue to stir until they’ve wilted. At this point stir in the parsley and take it off the heat. Serve the pearl barley risotto in deep bowls with slices of goats cheese on top and loads of black pepper.

The ultimate veggie pizza

I love homemade pizza, and nothing beats a homemade pizza cooked in a proper pizza oven. I made this in Italy, with beautiful Italian tomatoes, seasonal summer veggies and fresh mozzarella. Bliss.

For the dough: (this is Jamie Oliver’s recipe)

  • 1 kg strong white bread flour
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 2 x 7g sachets dried yeast
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 650 ml lukewarm water

To make the dough, sieve the flour and salt on to a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. In a jug, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.

Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands – this is called knocking back the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in clingfilm, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using straight away, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas – this amount of dough is enough to make about six to eight medium pizzas.

For the tomato passata:

Fry a crushed clove of garlic in a slug of olive oil. Add a tin of good-quality Italian chopped and peeled tomatoes and simmer slowly until reduced. Add a tablespoon or two of chopped fresh basil and lots of freshly ground black pepper.


My favourite pizza toppings are thinly chopped mushrooms, courgettes and aubergines, balsamic-and-garlic-reduced red peppers, goat’s cheese, fresh basil and rocket and cherry tomatoes.

If you’re cooking in a pizza oven you need to start heating the oven up at least three hours before you cook. In a conventional oven, whack the heat up to 220 C. Cook the pizza for about 12 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

Mushroom risotto

People seem to think that risottos are complicated and difficult to make. They really aren’t. There’s a lot of stirring involved, and it’s pretty involved cooking in that you can’t just let the risotto simmer away while you go and do something else, but it’s not difficult cooking. Mushroom risotto is my favourite kind of risotto and the pinnacle of comfort food. Now that the weather’s turned autumnal and the nights are getting cooler, it’s a perfect time to start cooking warming, starchy, cheesy food.

mushroom risotto

Serves 5

500 g arborio (risotto) rice
500 g mushrooms (use chestnut or brown mushrooms – anything other than white button), chopped into big chunks
150 ml dry white wine
25 g butter
125 g parmesan, grated
2 l vegetable stock
3 leeks or one small onion, chopped finely
A handful of Italian parsley
Balsamic vinegar

Heat the veg stock and the white wine in a pot with the lid on and keep on a low simmer while cooking your leeks and mushrooms.

Fry the leeks or onion in the butter and two tablespoons of olive oil on a low heat until golden. Add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes before adding the rice for a minute or two. This is where the real stirring starts – add a ladleful of the stock and wine mixture and stir until it’s completely absorbed. Keep doing this until the risotto rice is cooked (no longer crunchy but has a slight bite) – this will take about 30 minutes. Turn the heat off, add the grated parmesan and stir until it’s melted in. Stir in the parsley and serve with a drizzle of balsamic and a crisp rocket salad.

Joe’s carrot and sausage pasta

Serves 6

This is one of my boyfriend’s specialities. It’s easy, healthy and filling. I’m not a big fan of vegetarian sausages usually, but cooked in a tomatoey pasta sauce, their texture improves a lot.

Tomato, carrot and veggie sausage pasta

  • 1 medium onion, chopped finely
  • Some garlic – equivalent of 2 heaped teaspoons of chopped garlic
  • 2 courgettes, grated
  • 500g carrots, grated
  • 250g mushrooms, chopped
  • 500g frozen vegetarian sausages, chopped (you need to slightly dethaw them to chop)
  • 3 x 400g tinned peeled tomatoes
  • 500g tagliatelle
  • 200g feta, chopped into small pieces
  • Chilli flakes (up to you how much –  try 2-3 tsp for a mild kick)
  • 2 T Marmite
  • 1 lemon (zest and juice)

Pour a little olive oil into a deep frying pan (I prefer to use a big casserole dish that you can put on a hotplate) and add the garlic and onions.  When the onions have started sweating a bit, throw in all of the mushrooms, and the chopped veggie sausages.  You made need to add a little more olive oil at this point, depending on how thirsty the mushroom are for it.

After about 5 minutes or so, add all the tomatoes and mash or chop them up.  Once they are simmering nicely you can put in all the grated carrot and courgette.  For seasoning, add some chilli flakes for a bit of heat, a couple of tablespoons of Marmite for some saltiness and body, and the lemon zest and juice of a lemon (or half, depending on the size of the lemon).  Also add a sprinkle of brown sugar to cut through the acidity if necessary.

The meal can now simmer away for about 20 minutes, during which time you can cook the tagliatelle.  When the sauce is ready, season with plenty of black pepper and crumble over the feta. Serve on top of the tagliatelle.