1 litre quality chicken stock — if you’re using commercial stock, make sure it’s not sweetened
120g speck (or pancetta), diced
3 large eschalots, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
350g mushrooms, sliced — use a mix of wild or exotic (Swiss or king brown would work well)
3 sprigs thyme
Freshly ground pepper
150ml dry white wine
60g grana padano, finely grated
4 sprigs sage, leaves only
1. Bring a litre of water to the boil, add the barley and simmer for 15 minutes, then drain well. Heat the chicken stock in a saucepan and keep on a low heat.
2. In a medium, heavy-based pot, add the speck and fry over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until the fat renders off and the speck starts to crisp up. Add the eschalots and garlic and cook for 3 minutes or until softened.
3. Add the mushrooms and the thyme (you might need to add a little butter if it’s too dry), season and cook to soften. Add the barley and the white wine, stir and reduce. Add the hot stock gradually while stirring, just like making risotto, until the barley is cooked — I like the nutty, chewy quality of barley, so make sure there is some texture left in the grain. If you run out of stock you can use a little hot water.
4. Once the barley is cooked, stir in the grated cheese and some butter if it needs enriching.
5. In a small frying pan, fry the sage leaves in a little butter until they crisp up. Drain on kitchen paper, season and sprinkle over the “risotto” just before serving.