Risotto is so rich and creamy that it seems fancy and somewhat decadent. Well this version is no different, even though it is made without meat or dairy and I used barley instead of the traditional Arborio rice which adds flavor and interest. If you are intimidated by making risotto at home, don’t be. It’s actually a pretty easy (mostly) one pot dish. Yes, you do have to stir it but not constantly. You don’t have to be a slave to the stove but it is the technique of slowly adding broth and allowing it to absorb into the barley which creates the rich and creamy almost sauce-like texture which is the result of the barley releasing starch into the broth. Starch is that magic ingredient that helps marry the ingredients. (This is same reason I always save a cup of cooking water when making pasta). The barley risotto is a wonderful, slightly chewy consistency and the butternut squash is sweet and perfectly accented by the lovely ‘sauce’ and fresh tangy sage. The end result is worth the extra attention, however, I have a short cut in TIPS below for those who can’t be bothered but still like the idea of butternut squash and barley.
Risotto is traditionally made with Arborio rice which lends itself to a creamy consistency but I decided to use pearl barley instead to give my risotto a heartier, winter ‘stick to your ribs’ feel and to boost the nutrition. So what exactly is pearl barley? Pearl Barley, or pearled barley, is barley that has been processed to remove its hull and bran. All barley must have its fibrous outer hull removed before it can be eaten; pearl barley is then polished to remove the bran layer. Although pearl barley is not a whole grain, it still has twice as much fiber than white and brown rice. Adding fiber to your diet helps prevent cardiovascular disease and diabetes and keeps your digestive system running smoothly. Pearl barley also has almost four times the amount of calcium than white rice but white rice, surprisingly has a bit more iron and more protein. Go figure. You can also buy hulled barley, which still has the bran, for even more nutrition. It may not make as creamy of a dish and will take about 20 minutes more to soften. To read more on Livestrong, click HERE
TIPS: If you like this combination of ingredients but don’t have the patience to add the broth a half cup at a time, just saute the onions and squash, then add 3 cups of broth, the squash and half the sage, cover and cook on low heat about 25 minutes. Stir in parmesan and remaining sage. It won’t be as creamy but should still taste pretty good. Since the squash will continue to steam, it may fall apart but that is probably okay.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND BARLEY RISOTTO
- 4 cups vegetable broth plus 2 cups water
- 2 teaspoons olive oil, butter or vegan butter (0r half and half)
- 1⁄2 large onion, chopped
- 2 cups butternut squash, diced into bite sized pieces
- 1 cup pearl barley (or arborio rice)
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped or 1⁄2 teaspoon dried
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese (optional)
- In a small saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. Cover, and reduce heat to low. Heat oil in a medium sized pot and saute onion over medium heat until tender.
- Add squash and sauté for another 5 minutes.
- Add barley and stir to coat. Add 1/2 cup of the boiled broth, and chopped sage. Simmer, stirring often until broth is absorbed, about 5 minutes.
- Add remaining broth slowly, about 1/2 cup at a time, allowing it to be absorbed each time before adding more.
- Cook until the barley is tender but still firm, about 35-40 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
- Remove from heat and stir in parmesan and remaining sage.
- Serve with fresh sage or parsley, if desired.
Butternut Squash Barley Risotto