Oh, those cookie and eggnog pounds, the finger food at parties, and the special desserts! It’s hard to stay clear of the treats this time of year, so I like to enjoy a few abstemious home dinners that refresh and keep me honest. It’s getting relentlessly colder here after a long, mild autumn, so dishes, such as a gentle lentil soup, a vegetable stew or this barley risotto, are welcome and cozy. The nutty, chewy whole grain has enough character to be a vegetarian main dish.
The version you see here was made with the last of my garden pumpkins, which I had already cut up and roasted. Any other cubed and roasted winter squash will serve similarly. Winter leeks are also a good substitute for the red onion I used. Frozen peas or shelled fava beans, carrots or fennel slices, or cauliflower florets — cooked until just tender — will work with the barley as well. Homemade vegetable or chicken broth is impressive; boxed is also fine.
Be creative with your herbs and seasoning. I like rosemary or sage with squashes and pumpkins. I reach for thyme to season almost any vegetable, and dill is an unexpected, vaguely Scandinavian touch with carrots or cauliflower. If you have managed to grow some herbs inside, use about one tablespoon of minced, fresh herbs. If the herbs are dried, 1 1/2 teaspoons will be enough.
Serve as is as a side dish or with a generous grating of Parmesan or Romano cheese as a main dish.
Recipe: Barley Risotto With Roasted Pumpkin
Serves about four
- 1 small, red onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth, warmed
- 1 to 2 cups roasted pumpkin cubes (see above)
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, sage or thyme leaves, chopped
- salt and pepper, to taste
- freshly grated Parmesan or Romano, optional
Sauté the onion and garlic gently in the oil. When they have just softened, add the barley and move it around in the pan a little to toast and coat. Add the warm broth little by little, allowing it to come to a simmer and be absorbed each time before you add more. Taste the barley; if it’s dry, add more broth. When it’s almost tender enough, add in the pumpkin cubes to warm them and then the chopped fresh herbs and seasoning. Sprinkle with grated cheese, if using.