I have an anarchic view of risotto - this one uses pearl barley instead of rice for a nutty flavour and interesting texture
My mum used to do a great mushroom and tomato risotto in a big, square electric pan, with long-grain rice and tinned tomatoes. For reasons known only to her, she added tiny bits of broken-up spaghetti - maybe to bulk it out. I subsequently grew up with an anarchic view of what a risotto should be ... Wine? Unnecessary. Arborio rice? Pfft. But mushrooms? Oh yes - I love a mushroom risotto.
I make a mushroom stock with leftover peelings. It's easy to do: dry out some mushrooms (discarded stems are good for this), keep them (frozen if you like) with onion skins and carrot peelings, then put them all in a saucepan, and add some thyme and parsley and a few cloves of garlic. Cover with water, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer for around an hour, then strain and store. If you haven't got the time or inclination, chicken stock will do - but you're missing out on an intensely good experience.
3 tbsp oil - I like groundnut or sunflower
200g mixed mushrooms, sliced
4 fat cloves of garlic, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 leek, hard green parts removed, finely sliced
200g pearl barley
700ml mushroom or chicken stock
1 tsp picked thyme leaves
Salt and pepper, to season
2 tbsp cream cheese
30g hard, strong cheese, grated
A fistful of parsley, roughly chopped
Put two tablespoons of oil in a wide, shallow pan on a medium heat and add the mushrooms. Cook for a few minutes to brown and soften, stirring occasionally, then remove and set to one side.
Turn down the heat, add another tablespoon of oil, then cook the garlic gently for a minute. Add the onions, stirring to stop them sticking - you want everything soft, sweet and translucent. Add the leeks and keep stirring regularly.
After around 10 minutes, pour in the pearl barley and stir. Add a splash of stock, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer, and when the stock is almost all absorbed, add a little more. Repeat until the stock is used up, or the pearl barley is soft and swollen.
Add the mushrooms, thyme and seasoning, and stir through to warm for a minute or two. Remove from the heat, add the cream cheese and stir well. Serve, garnished with the cheese and parsley.
Jack Monroe's mushroom pearl barley risotto. Photograph: Graham Turner/Guardian