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Barley and Pioppino Mushroom Risotto

Barley and pioppino mushroom risotto
This Barley and Pioppino Mushroom Risotto blends traditional Italian cooking with the wholesome goodness of barley and the unique flavors of pioppino mushrooms.
5.0 from 3 votes

Imagine the rich, creamy embrace of a traditional risotto, now infused with the nutty depth of barley and the earthy umami of pioppino mushrooms. This Barley and Pioppino Mushroom Risotto isn’t just a dish; it marries the best of Italian culinary traditions with the wholesome goodness of whole grains. It’s perfect for those evenings when you crave comfort food but don’t want to compromise on health. Keep reading to discover how this delicious dish is inspired by the longevity secrets of the Blue Zones.

Raw Dry White Arborio Rice
Raw Dry White Arborio Rice

What is risotto?

Risotto is a creamy, comforting dish from Northern Italy. It’s made by stirring hot broth into rice until it reaches a lush, creamy consistency. Risotto distinguishes itself from other rice dishes by its unique cooking method and texture. Using arborio rice is key to achieving risotto’s signature creaminess. That’s because arborio rice is higher in amylopectin, a starch responsible for risotto’s hallmark texture. The magic of risotto lies in its method, which coaxes the starch out of the rice grains.

Our Barley and Pioppino Mushroom Risotto embraces the traditional risotto method while introducing barley to the mix. Barley introduces a delightful chewiness and a boost of fiber that complements the creamy risotto beautifully. This twist enriches the dish nutritionally and also adds a wonderful depth of flavor that’s sure to intrigue and satisfy.

Is risotto rice or pasta?

Risotto is definitely rice-based. It is traditionally made with short-grain arborio rice, known for its high starch content and creamy texture when cooked. Unlike orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, risotto rice absorbs liquid and releases starch gradually, resulting in its unique creaminess. While orzo can mimic the appearance of risotto, it behaves more like pasta and lacks the same capacity to create a creamy texture.

Is there a substitute for arborio rice?

For those unable to find arborio rice, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano make great substitutes. These alternatives offer a similar starchiness that’s key for achieving that signature creamy texture. They also stand up well to the slow cooking process, absorbing flavors beautifully without becoming mushy.

Adding barley to this risotto recipe already deviates from the traditional version, so using a similar rice will still yield a delicious and creamy dish, albeit with an added twist of whole grain goodness. This blend of grains creates a risotto that’s both comforting and perfect for those looking to explore beyond traditional recipes.

Why add barley to pioppino mushroom risotto?

Incorporating barley into mushroom risotto introduces a delightful contrast in textures and boosts nutritional benefits. Barley, with its high fiber content, contributes to a feeling of fullness, aids in digestion, and supports heart health.

This grain adds a chewy, satisfying bite to the creamy risotto. It also brings a rich, nutty flavor that beautifully complements the earthy tones of the pioppino mushrooms. This fusion of flavors and textures creates a more complex, satisfying dish that pays homage to traditional risotto while embracing the Blue Zone love of whole grains.

What’s the difference between hulled barley and pearl barley?

Hulled barley and pearl barley are two forms of the same grain, distinguished by their processing.

Hulled barley—also known as barley groats—uses the whole grain form with only the outer hull removed. It retains most of its bran layer, making it richer in fiber and nutrients but also resulting in a longer cooking time and a chewier texture.

Pearl barley, meanwhile, has been polished to remove the bran. This results in quicker cooking and a softer texture but with reduced nutritional content. For our pioppino mushroom risotto, pearl barley is preferred for its softer texture. It blends seamlessly with the creamy consistency of the dish while still contributing a pleasant chewiness and rich, nutty flavor.

However, either type of barley can be used in our Barley and Pioppino Mushroom Risotto. Your choice depends only on your preference for texture and cooking time. Pearl barley may be more reminiscent of traditional arborio rice risotto, making it a popular choice for those seeking a closer approximation to the classic dish. However, hulled barley offers a more nutrient-dense option, aligning with the Blue Zone focus on consuming whole, minimally processed foods for optimal health and longevity.

Having trouble deciphering if the barley you bought in bulk is hulled or pearl? Someone asked the Washington Post how to tell the difference, and they answered here.

Agrocybe Aegerita Mushrooms Pioppino
Agrocybe Aegerita Mushrooms Pioppino

Are pioppino mushrooms curative mushrooms?

Pioppino mushrooms—also known as the Black Poplar Mushroom or the Velvet Pioppini—are popular in the Campania Region in Italy. (I’ve recently applied to have my Italian citizenship recognized jure sanguinis, so I am on a tear exploring Italian cuisine.) They have a mild flavor, and they stay firm during cooking, making them an ideal and somewhat neutral choice of mushroom.

While not classified as medicinal like reishi or shiitake, pioppino mushrooms offer significant health benefits. They are rumored to slow down the negative effects of osteoporosis, but I haven’t found any substantive research on that point yet. However, they are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and thus contribute to a healthy diet by supporting immune function, reducing inflammation, and potentially protecting against certain diseases.

Their nutty flavor and meaty texture make them an excellent addition to our risotto, enhancing the dish’s nutritional profile and offering a delicious, earthy depth that elevates the entire eating experience.

And yes, you can grow your own fresh Piopino mushrooms at home.

Is Barley and Pioppino Mushroom Risotto a Blue Zone meal?

Incorporating pioppino mushrooms into our diet, as we do with the Barley and Pioppino Mushroom Risotto, aligns with the Blue Zone principle of eating a variety of plant-based foods to support health and longevity. While the direct “curative” properties of pioppino mushrooms may not be as pronounced as those of some other mushroom varieties, they are a tasty addition to a diet focused on wellness and disease prevention.

Barley and Pioppino Mushroom Risotto

5.0 from 3 votes
Recipe by Nate Clark Course: DinnerCuisine: Italian, VegetarianDifficulty: Medium


Prep time


Cooking time





This Barley and Pioppino Mushroom Risotto blends traditional Italian cooking with the wholesome goodness of barley and the unique flavors of pioppino mushrooms. It’s a perfect example of how simple, nutritious ingredients can be transformed into a luxurious meal that nourishes the body and delights the senses, embodying the spirit of Blue Zone living.

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  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter

  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic

  • 1 half white onion, finely chopped

  • 2 cups Pioppino mushrooms, chopped on a bias

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed

  • 1 cup Arborio rice

  • 1/2 Tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped

  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped

  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (e.g., Pinot Grigio)

  • 4 cups vegetable broth (low sodium)

  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

  • salt and pepper, to taste

  • fresh parsley, finely chopped (garnish)


  • Warm low-sodium vegetable broth in a medium saucepan over low heat.
  • In a large pan, heat butter over medium heat until it just begins to brown. Lower heat and add onions and garlic, sautéing until soft but not overcooked. Add the Pioppino mushrooms and stir continuously until they are lightly browned. Add the oregano and thyme, then give it a good stir.Pioppino Mushrooms Being SautéedPioppino Mushrooms Being Sautéed
  • Stir in the olive oil, barley, and arborio rice, making sure that all ingredients are coated well. Toast for 2 minutes.
  • Pour in the wine, stirring until mostly absorbed.
  • Reduce heat to low and slowly pour 1 cup of warm broth into the pan. Stir to combine. Let simmer, uncovered, until most of the broth is absorbed, about 3-5 minutes. Continue adding 1/2 cup of broth at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next. Reserve 1/2 cup of broth. Make sure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. Stir constantly until both grains are tender yet firm to the bite (approximately 45 minutes).Barley and Pioppino Mushroom Risotto Being Cooked
  • Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of broth, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Allow it to cool slightly, then ladle the warm risotto into bowls and garnish lightly with fresh parsley before serving.


  • Substitute olive oil for butter if desired. Makes four sensible servings, but the recipe can easily be doubled to serve 6-8 people.

Nutrition Facts

  • Total number of serves: 4
  • Calories: 457kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 71.7g
  • Protein: 13g
  • Fat: 12g
  • Saturated Fat: 6g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: .4g
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 2.5g
  • Trans Fat: 0g
  • Cholesterol: 20mg
  • Sodium: 285.9mg
  • Potassium: 746.1mg
  • Fiber: 8.1g
  • Sugar: 5.2g

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Nate Clark

Nate Clark

Nate Clark has been making content for the Internet since 1921. He's best known as a musical comedian, a fitness enthusiast and author, and as a voice talent for lots of stuff. He's also a filmmaker, and has directed content for brands including Louis Vuitton, FENDI, The New York Times, Breeders' Cup, and many more. He lives in West Hollywood, CA, but he doesn't like visitors.
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