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.

Spinach and ricotta lasagne

It was about 35 degrees when I got home from work yesterday. Did I stay in the pool like a normal person? No, I’m so committed to cooking that I sweated it out in my sunny, hot kitchen making lasagne because I had to use up some ricotta I had leftover from the weekend. I don’t know why I didn’t think of a more summery recipe to use up my ricotta, but I got stuck on the idea of spinach and ricotta lasagne. I love this dish when it’s done well, but it’s so often overly creamy and rich (in a bad way) with a bland spinach filling. My version cuts out the white sauce (I just couldn’t spend any longer than I had to in the kitchen) and I think it’s better for it. It’s basically just spinach, cheese and tomato – simple but so tasty.

spinach and ricotta lasagne

Serves 6

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 cans chopped peeled tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • ½ teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 750 g frozen spinach
  • 2 courgettes, grated
  • 600 fresh ricotta
  • 80 g feta
  • 8 sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • Dried or fresh lasagne sheets (about 12, depending on the size of your dish)

A generous handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped roughly

Fry the onion in some olive oil until softened, and then add the garlic. Fry for a minute or two and then add the tins of tomato, the puree and a tomato can filled with water. Put the heat up to high and let it come to the boil. Once it’s bubbling away furiously, turn the heat down to medium high and let it simmer away until it’s become a thick sauce. Season with chilli (optional) and black pepper and stir in half of the basil leaves.

Heat some olive oil in another pan and add the frozen spinach (don’t defrost before cooking). Cook on medium high for a couple of minutes and then add the courgette. Turn the heat up when the spinach starts getting a bit watery and then cook until most of the water has evaporated.

Squeeze out the excess water and mix well with the ricotta. Crumble in around half of the feta and stir in the sundried tomatoes. Season with a bit of salt, lots of black pepper and the basil leaves.

Smear a layer of the tomato sauce over the bottom of a baking dish and then cover with a layer of spinach and ricotta mixture. On top of this add a layer of lasagna sheets. Keep repeating this until you end up with a layer of lasagna with tomato sauce on top. Crumble over the remaining feta and bake in an oven at 180 C for 35 – 40 minutes. It’s done when the feta has turned slightly golden. It’s great with rocket salad.

Spinach and bread tart

Serves 6

I’ve adapted this recipe from one I found in Femina magazine. This tart is super easy and quick to make. I love the bread as a tart crust substitute – the outside crust goes really crispy and the bottom is moist. If you want to make this a bit healthier, use reduced fat crème fraîche.

Spinach Bread Tart

  • 1 loaf of wholewheat seedy bread (I used a dense country seed loaf)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 750g frozen spinach
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 3 free-range extra-large eggs
  • 250 g crème fraîche
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan
  • 50 g feta

Cut the crusts off your bread and thinly butter each slice. Use the bread to line a deep tart dish, with the buttered side against the dish. Slice pieces of bread to fit the shape of the dish. Push the bread together so there are no big gaps.

Fry the onion in some olive oil until it starts turning golden. Add the bag of frozen spinach (don’t defrost before cooking) and turn up the heat. Add the garlic and cook until the spinach is completely defrosted and the liquid has evapourated. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Whisk together the eggs, crème fraîche and the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

Combine the egg mixture and the spinach and onion. Pour into the bread tart lining. Top with the crumbled feta.

Bake in the oven at 190C for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the feta starts turning light brown.

Serve with baby potato wedges and a salad.

Spinach Bread Tart