Barley Risotto With Wild Mushrooms and Smoky Bacon

1/4 pound thin-sliced, smoked bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 ounces butter
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 cup pearled barley
1/3 cup amber or red ale
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup (1/2 ounce) dried porcini mushroom pieces (see note)
3 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Chopped, fresh parsley, for garnish

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute the bacon over medium heat until richly browned. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Spoon off all but 2 tablespoons bacon grease. Add the butter and onions to pan and saute over medium heat until onions have softened and turned slightly golden.

Stir in the barley, ale, broth and prepared mushrooms. Stir and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until barley has absorbed most liquid and is very tender. It should have a creamy character but not be "soupy" and definitely not overly dry. Just like risotto!

Season risotto to taste with the salt and pepper. When ready to serve, stir in the cheese, along with reserved bacon pieces. Garnish with the parsley.

Makes about 6 (3/4 cup) servings.

NOTE: Instead of reconstituting dried mushrooms for this dish, chop them before adding to other ingredients. Using a food processor, run the motor in quick bursts so most mushroom pieces are about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in dimension. Some can be smaller, but you want to avoid very large pieces so mushroom flavor is evenly distributed.


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