Barley and Squash Risotto

My Georgetown MA advisor shared this AMAZING recipe with me. She also gave me this incredibly helpful tip: For peeling butternut squash– prick the skin several times with a paring knife, then microwave (or oven) the squash for a minute or two in order to soften the skin just enough so it can be peeled with your favorite peeler. Smart, no?!


  • 5 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth (may be made with cubes)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups (ab. 8 ounces) sliced shitake or baby bella (cremini) mushrooms
  • 1 large sprig thyme, plus more for garnish (may use dried)
  • 1 medium onion, cut into small dice (1 cup)
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced (½ teaspoon)
  • 1 cup pearled barley
  • 1 small (about 1 lb.) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-in. cubes
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano  (or any other combination Italian) cheese, plus more for garnish
  • Kosher (or sea) salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups fall greens, such as baby spinach, kale, swiss chard
  1. Heat the broth in a medium saucepan over low heat; keep it warm (but not really bubbling).
  2. Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned on the edges, about 4-5 minutes.  Add the onion and cook until it becomes translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the barley to the mushroom mixture and stir for 2 minutes.
  4. Reduce the heat to low; add about 2 cups of the warm broth to the barley mixture, and stir slowly until the barley begins to swell and most of the liquid is absorbed.  Add the squash.  Add 2 more cups of the broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring slowly and letting the barley absorb the broth before adding more.  The risotto is cooked when the barley is creamy on the outside and slightly firm (al dente) in the center.
  5. Discard the thyme sprig.  Add the greens and stir until they have wilted; then stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  If the risotto is too thick or dry, add some of the remaining broth to achieve the desired consistency.
  6. Divide the risotto among individual serving dishes, and garnish with a sprinkling of P-R and a small sprig of thyme.

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