mushroom barley soup

mushroom barley soup with rosemary

This mushroom barley soup came about because I spotted loads of large mushrooms in the reduced area at the supermarket. I also spotted a bag of soffrito, reduced to 10p. Soffrito is just the Italian name for chopped onion, carrot and celery – the basis for most Italian soups, sauces and stews. I never usually use ready chopped things but I knew I had a hectic day ahead, and that the chopping time I’d save would allow me to crack out a few more emails. With less than 15 minutes of prep, this soup was puttering away on the stove while I cracked on with work. An hour later it made the most delicious hearty lunch. A few hours after that, my boys had it for dinner with cheese on toast.

The pearled barley or spelt adds body but also a stickiness that makes this extra comforting. If you are gluten-free, you could add some risotto rice instead.

Don’t skip the blending bit at the end. By blending half the mushroom barley soup, you add creaminess and thicken it up.


Leftover soup will sit in the fridge for 4-5 days, making it perfect to dip into for last minute lunches or dinners. Or freeze it in individual servings so you have treats to come.

Mushroom barley soup ingredients

(makes 6 large servings)

  • 1x 500g bag of soffrito or 2 sticks of celery, 2 carrots and a large onion
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1kg (2.2lb) portobella or chestnut (crimini in the US) mushrooms
  • 200g (1 cup) of raw pearl barley or pearled spelt
  • 3 tablespoons Marsala or sherry
  • 2 stems of rosemary
  • 1 chicken or vegetable organic stock pot – I used an organic Kallo pot. In the US use a tablespoon of organic Better than Bouillon paste
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make mushroom barley soup

  1. Finely dice an onion, 2 sticks of celery and 2 carrots. There is no need to peel the carrot. Or cheat and use a bag of ready chopped soffrito.
    • To get the right size pieces, cut the celery down the length 4 times, so you get 4 long strips. Hold the strips together and cut across as close as possible so you’re left with a pile of tiny cubes.
    • Cut the carrot 4 times length ways. Then separate the lengths into two stacks so you have the flat side on the board. Cut down the lengths 3-4 times and then turn and cut across as close as possible.
    • Watch my video showing how to dice an onion.
  2. Add the chopped vegetables to a large saucepan, on a medium heat along with a tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt. Don’t fret about the butter, this soup will feed 6 people generously so it is hardly any per portion. The butter adds a real depth of flavour. If you are dairy-free you can use olive oil instead. The salt forces the liquid out of the onions so that they soften more quickly.
  3. Stir the vegetables and leave them to cook while you prepare the mushrooms. Don’t wash or peel your mushrooms, just rub off any dirt with paper towel or your finger. Slice each mushroom into 5mm slices, then turn the stack of slices and cut across at the same thickness, to get small pieces. Set aside and continue until all the mushrooms are chopped.
  4. Boil a kettle of water.
  5. By now your soffrito should be golden and soft. Add the mushrooms to the pan and stir. The mushrooms will start to cook down and release their liquid. Cook for around 4 minutes, stirring every minute.
  6. Add the Marsala and bubble for a minute before adding the raw barley, whole stems of rosemary, a teaspoon each of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and the stock. Cover with boiling water so that the vegetables are just covered. Stir and bring to the boil with a lid on.
  7. Once the soup comes to the boil, drop the heat so that the soup simmers, lid on for 45-60 minutes. The lower the heat the longer it can cook. Perfect while you dash off to do other things.
  8. When the barley is tender, take the rosemary out of the soup and use an immersion blender to blend half the soup. Do this in the pan and just stop when the soup is half blended rather than taking half out to blend!
  9. Taste the soup and add salt and pepper as needed. I like to add a tiny splash of the Marsala at this stage too for brightness.
  10. Serve the soup with cream cheese on whole grain toast for dunking. A grating of Parmesan is gorgeous too.

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