Pearl barley risotto with field mushrooms,presunto and Nisa cheese

Pearl barley and Nisa cheese risotto with New zealand spinach leaves
From time to time I enjoy a blind challenge. Recently refurbished, the Bairro Alto Hotel in Lisbon has reopened its doors to the public with new decor and also with a new name for the restaurant, "Flores". Chef Vasco Lello has set out to compliment the contemporary style of the hotel´s decor with a culinary fusion of traditional and contemporary styles.His goal is reflected in the menu he presents. He revives some of the more traditional flavours of Portuguese cuisine and adapts them to more contemporary dishes.Also in the presentation of the food, elements of Portuguese culture are represented with the plating being done on traditional and handmade dishes.One of his entree dishes, a mushroom risotto with Nisa cheese cried out to me and without ever having seen or tasted it. I set out to make what I imagined it might be.Brave, I hear you say,oh well I could only hope.Having just been given a bag of Pearl Barley (like "gold from the sky" to an expat cook living in Portugal) and with some beautiful specimens of field mushrooms (they are always at their best after the rain) from the market I set out to create a beautiful risotto containing some of the best possible tastes Portugal can provide.

Pearl barley risotto with mushrooms 
Presunto and Nisa cheese
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter

200g (8oz) Pearl barley
1 small leek trimmed
6 shallots finely chopped
2 garlic cloves
100g (4oz) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon each fresh thyme and rosemary
5 slices Presunto serrano,chopped
200g (8 oz) field mushrooms,sliced
1 litre mushroom stock from dried mushrooms
100g Nisa cheese or Pecorino
125 ml Madeira
handful of New Zealand spinach leaves (see above)
Flor de sal
Freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the pearl barley and bring the mushroom stock to a boil in a medium sized pan.Add the pearl barley and cook for approximately 8 -10 minutes.Drain the pearl barley saving the remaining stock.Set aside. Meanwhile peel and finely chop the shallots and garlic and thinly slice the leek.Saute them in a large pan with half the butter until lightly coloured and softened.Add the mushrooms,ham,rosemary and thyme.Add the pre-cooked pearl barley,season with salt and pepper, and proceed as you would for a risotto adding the reserved mushroom stock and madeira alternately, until the risotto is cooked( about 20 more minutes).Stir in the spinach leaves followed by the remaining  butter and the grated cheese.Mix well  until the mixture is a creamy consistency.
Warm plates are important,as otherwise the hot rice will adhere to the cold plate,ruining its consistency which must remain ondulado("wavy") as they say in Portugal.


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