I was born and bred in this region, but each Chicago winter feels longer than the last to me. I don't really mind the cold, but I do mind the short days and difficult terrain. Like most people in my family, I derive a lot of joy in spending time outside and the city feels somewhat limited to me during this season. The holidays have passed, work is busy, and I find most of my outdoor time is spent simply in transit rather than idle enjoyment. My one, simple resolution this year was to go outside and walk every day at lunch -- whether it was particularly inhospitable out or I felt I had too much work to complete. I'm happy to say I've stuck to it on all but one very bad, very busy day.
I've begun to notice some indications that spring is on its way. The days are getting longer, hats are not required at all times, and I was recently on a bus with its ceiling air-vent propped open (though, the heat was blasting). I also have a trip to look forward to. I'm excited that all of the pieces have fallen into place for a spring vacation to San Francisco. I've hardly left town since last summer and I'm in need of a bit of warmth. I'll be visiting some dear friends and running the Oakland Half Marathon. I was 12 the last time I visited the area, so please feel free to share some travel tips!
Here is a hearty dish for these last few weeks of cold. This Mushroom Barley Risotto is simple, healthy and inexpensive. The escarole adds a nice touch -- one that I wouldn't have thought to add on my own.
Mushroom Barley Risotto
6 oz white mushrooms, sliced
6 C low-sodium vegetable stock
2 Tbl olive oil
1 medium white onion, diced
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 C pearled barley
1 15 oz can of cannelloni beans
4 C escarole, chopped
1/2 C Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated
2 Tbl butter
Salt and pepper to taste
In a dry pan, saute the mushrooms until dark, fragrant and moist. Set aside. In a medium saucepan, heat the stock and keep warm.
In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and thyme and cook until the onion is soft, about six minutes. Add the barley and cook, stirring for two minutes. Add the mushrooms and one cup of the stock. Stir until absorbed. Continue with all but 1/2 a cup of the stock, adding it a 1/2 cup at a time. This should take about 35 minutes.
Add the beans and cook for one minute. Add the last 1/2 cup of stock if necessary or desired. Add the escarole and stir until wilted and cook for one additional minute. Add the cheese and butter and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with extra grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for garnish.