Barley, a highly nutritious and versatile grain, often gets overlooked in favour of more trendy grains such as quinoa. You can enjoy its delicious nutty flavour and the host of nutritional benefits it confers in this healthy take on traditional rice risotto.
Choose pearl barley
This risotto calls for pearl barley, as this version of the grain absorbs more liquid than pot barley (or whole barley) and also releases starches into the liquid, which helps to thicken the risotto and make it creamy. While pearl barley is a somewhat refined form of the grain, it is still an excellent source of heart-healthy fibre and hard-to-get trace minerals such as selenium and manganese.
1/2 cup (125 mL) pearl barley
1 small butternut or kuri squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into bite-sized cubes (about 2 cups/500 mL)
1 1/2 Tbsp (22 mL) extra-virgin olive oil or camelina oil, divided
1 leek (bulb and light green part only), thoroughly washed and finely sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
2 bay leaves
Zest of 1 orange
4 sprigs fresh thyme (stripped leaves only), or 1 1/3 tsp (6.5 mL) dried thyme
4 1/2 cups (1.125 L) low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup (125 mL) white wine
1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 Tbsp (60 mL) Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Rinse barley thoroughly under cold water. Set aside.
Place squash cubes in large roasting pan and drizzle with 1 Tbsp (15 mL) olive oil. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, or until soft and slightly caramelized.
Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in large saucepan. Add leek and garlic, and stir-fry for a few minutes until both are softened. Add barley, bay leaves, orange zest, thyme, stock, and white wine. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for 40 to 50 minutes, or until barley is tender and mixture is sufficiently thickened and creamy.
Stir in parsley, and season lightly with salt and pepper, to taste. Ladle risotto evenly into 4 big soup bowls, and top each bowl with equal amounts of roasted squash, including the drippings from roasting pan. Sprinkle each bowl with 1 Tbsp (15 mL) Parmesan and serve immediately.