Mushroom and Pearl Barley Soup (minestra di orzo e funghi)

I miss the snow! After four Chicago Winters and a White Christmas (and then some) in New York last year I am now feeling a little tetchy and wondering when I am going to make my next snow angel – call me crazy but snow has been a staple in my US Winters and I am now feeling a little deprived.

At any rate, despite my flurry withdrawals, I am still enjoying the Winter fare – which means lots of hearty food and the occasional mulled wine. In todays case it’s a thick winter soup of mushrooms and pearl barley. It also includes a ham hock which is undoubtably the star of the soup with its flavour bringing depth to the combination of mushroom and barley.

The perfect soup for an evening meal but for me, it has lazy weekend lunch written all over it – enjoy!

ham hock/s (1 kilo/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 leeks, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
400 grams white pearl barley, rinsed
20 grams dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 1/3 cup cold water for 20 minutes, finely chopped, water reserved
3 thyme sprigs, plus extra leaves to serve
16 small cremini mushrooms, coarsely broken apart
salt and pepper
1/3 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
To serve: shaved pecorino and thyme leaves

Place ham hock(s) in a large saucepan with 3 litres cold water, bring to the simmer over low-medium heat and cook, partially covered, until meat is falling from the bone ( around 4 hours). Remove with a slotted spoon, set aside and when cool enough to handle, shred meat (discard skin, bone and sinew). Reserve ham stock and meat separately.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a saucepan over low heat, add leek, onion and garlic and stir occasionally for 15 minutes. Add pearl barley, dried mushrooms, mushroom water and thyme, pour over ham stock to cover and cook over medium heat until barley is tender (30-40 minutes).

Add broken mushrooms to soup with parsley and shredded ham and cook until mushrooms are very tender (5-10 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot scattered with shaved pecorino and thyme leaves

Notes: This soup is really good served with a crostini – particularly a goats cheese one!

See more of my recipes at My Best Days Ever

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