Spelt is an ancient grain that has been cultivated in the middle east for around 9000 years, and has been a crop in Britain since 2000 BCE. It is a nutty, firm grain similar to the more familiar barley and in their ‘pearled’ state both are fantastic substitutes for rice. Used here instead of risotto rice, pearled spelt (or pearl barley, you can use either) go exceptionally well with the earthy flavour of mushrooms, making a warming, comforting, healthy yet very filling evening meal. Pearled barley and spelt are not quite whole grains because even though they have not been rolled, broken or ground down, they are still refined in that the pearling process polishes off the outer bran layer. This makes them easier and quicker to cook, and digest, without significantly affecting their nutritional profile.
The health benefits are many and varied, rather than rehash them here, this infographic from organicfacts.net says it all:
We would normally have this speltotto in the autumn, but the spring weather in the UK recently took a turn for the wet and windy so this dish was the perfect antidote for the cold weather blues.
This recipe is easily adaptable for vegans with little impact on its flavour, simply omit the butter and Parmesan.
RECIPE – feeds 2
10g dried mixed mushroom (porcini, wild, shiitake, whatever you have available)
500ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
a sprig of thyme, leaves picked (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped or crushed
200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
150g pearled spelt (or pearl barley)
juice of half a lemon
15g unsalted butter
a small bunch of finely chopped parsley, leaves only
30g Parmesan, finely grated
Soak the dried mushrooms in 150ml of just-boiled water, set aside.
Heat the stock in a saucepan and leave at a gentle simmer.
Heat the oil in a large risotto or frying pan, add the onion and thyme and fry over a medium heat for 5 minutes until the onion is softened.
Remove the dried mushrooms from the hot water, drain and pat dry on kitchen paper, retaining the liquid in the bowl. Roughly chop the rehydrated mushrooms. Strain the mushroom liquid through muslin cloth to remove the grit, set the liquid aside as it has a lot of flavour which you will use in a moment.
Add the rehydrated mushrooms, sliced chestnut mushrooms and garlic to the onion and thyme, cook on for another five minutes or so, then add the pearled spelt and stir thoroughly for a minute or so until the spelt is coated with all the other ingredients. Now turn the heat up and add the vermouth, cook for a minute while the alcohol burns off, now add the mushroom liquid. The pan should now be set at a heat where it will simmer gently, and the spelt will absorb the cooking liquid. Keep your eye on it, and keep stirring regularly; you don’t want it to catch on the bottom of the pan. When the liquid has almost all been absorbed start to add the simmering stock, a ladleful at a time, and continue to cook and stir. It will look like this:
Continue to add the stock as it gets absorbed by the spelt, never allow it to dry out. This will take around 20-25 minutes (40 minutes or so for pearl barley), and you will see the grains puff up as they absorb the liquid. If you need to add more liquid than is in your stock pot, just add some more hot water. When ready, the spelt grains should be cooked through and soft, but retaining a little ‘bite’.
To finish, add the butter and stir it through until melted, this will give the dish a nice shine. Stir through the lemon juice, then the parmesan – which acts as a seasoning as well as adding creaminess – and scatter the chopped parsley leaves across the top. Stir once, and serve alongside a simple green salad seasoned with a little lemon juice. It will look like this:
The flavours are intense, so adjust the seasoning carefully. You can also add a few handfuls of spinach before adding the butter; the flavours marry perfectly.