Ah, those crisp autumn days! We hanker after bright sun of summer or the fresh mornings in spring, but I love the crisp, bright autumn days we are enjoying at the moment.
Summer is well and truly over, but produce-wise, you are still able to enjoy a good range of quite interesting and exciting things. And enjoy it you should, because this is that last, final celebration before the darkness of winter creeps upon us. Brrrr!
Just to make the point, here are a few shots that I have taken recently, and I think they convey the mood quite well. Autumn colours with sunlight streaming through yellow leaves, berries and crab apples a-plenty, and a few interesting looking things at local farmer’s markets. I knew about heirloom tomatoes, but I have now learned about heirloom carrots!
To go with this time of year, I have tried my hand at a pilaf dish, but based on barley. It’s a grain that you don’t often see on menus, which is a bit of a shame. It was one of the first grains that were grown in Europe, so it has pedigree, but it is also very tasty. For me, it is what makes a decent bowl of broth, adding a bit of chewiness, but keeping its shape, unlike the tendency of rice to self-destruct and turn to mush after too long in soup stock.
I think this recipe works because it successfully pairs the “earthy” quality of barley with mushrooms to make a rich, warm and filling winter dish. In some ways, it is very much like a risotto, but the finished results is also quite different. The grains of barley soften but do not turn to mush, keeping a little bit of bite and chewiness, so there is more texture than in a risotto. There is also no cream or cheese in the pilaf, so it makes it filling but not heavy. And one of the big attractions to a busy home cook is that rather than the stir-stir-stir method of good risotto, you cook onion and barley in a little olive oil, then add everything else and allow to simmer gently for 45 minute. Job done.
To make Mushroom Barley Pilaf (serves 4):
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 240g barley
• 1 litre vegetable stock
• 200g mushrooms, roughly sliced
• 2 spring onions, sliced
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
• freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• Parmesan cheese, to serve
Heat the oil in a saucepan on a medium heat. Add the onion and fry until soft and translucent. Add the barley, and cook for two minutes until it is toasted (you will have to stir all the time to stop it burning).
Add the stock, mushrooms, spring onions, thyme and black pepper. Stir well and simmer for 45 minutes until the barley is tender and the stock has been absorbed.
To serve, fluff the pilaf a little with a fork. Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese.