This is an old classic, nothing too new-fangled and inventive here – but this recipe can be easily veganized if you don’t want to eat dairy, and at no cost to the flavour either.
I like to use barley, instead of or alongside the arborio rice.
- Partly because it’s a UK crop, I think that foods that are grown in proximity to each other have a natural affinity in the cooking pot and the butternut squash, the onion, leek, rosemary, and garlic in this recipe could easily come from the same garden… or from a local organic farm, it’s good to remain in touch with more local ingredients and produce, whilst virtuously reducing the food miles going into your kitchen.
- Partly because barley is more forgiving with imprecise cooking times, it is definitely more difficult (although not impossible!) to overcook barley, and the cooked grain has a firmer texture, giving this ‘risotto’ more bite.
- Partly because barley is a more nutritious grain then white risotto rice, boasting higher levels of fibre, calcium and iron and other essential micro-nutrients.
- And lastly, organic UK barley is about half the price of organic arborio rice.
- Win, win, win, win.
I’m keeping with my wintry, roasted veg, comforting, stodgy, carbohydrate theme because it is winter. I’m just not ready for summery salads yet, or raw creations or zingy juices or light finger foods (although I do make an awesome red cabbage cole slaw!). It’s cold outside, my house is cold, and my kitchen is cold when the oven’s not on, so I’m going to keep roasting and simmering and steaming and baking for now.
Also, I like to keep things seasonal, I am trying to use the produce that the UK provides at this time of year. The rhythm of the seasons is important to me, and I feel we enjoy our food choices all the more when we anticipate their readiness and eat them at their peak. Asparagus is all the more special when eaten every day in May and only in May. So rather than lambasting the long winters of root veg and squash we are blessed with in this corner of the world, I want to embrace and celebrate them and make them something wonderful. It’s cheaper that way too.
1 small butternut squash (£1.90)
5-6 cloves of garlic (30p)
5 sprigs of rosemary (from the garden!)
1 medium onion (15p)
1 medium leek (62p)
1 & 1/5 cups (300g) of organic pearl barley (75p)
150ml of white wine (optional)
1 – 1.5 litres of stock (2 stock cubes) (36p)
2 tbsp rapeseed oil for roasting and frying
1-2 tbsp of organic cream cheese or vegan alternative (optional)
50g of organic mature cheddar and/or 2-4 tbsp of nutritional yeast flakes.
salt and pepper to taste.
Start by preparing the butternut squash for roasting, de-seed and chop it into 1 inch chunks, I prefer to leave the skin on, it softens in the oven and creates another slightly chewy texture in the finished dish. Toss the squash in 1 tbsp of oil along with the whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic and the rosemary sprigs and put it all in a roasting tin.
Heat the oven to 200 degrees c.
Fill the kettle and switch it on.
Chop the onion and leek finely and fry in 1 tbsp of oil over a medium heat in a large frying pan or Dutch oven – or if you have a wide and shallow risotto/paella pan that would be perfect. After 5 minutes add the barley, coating it in the oil and letting it warm through for a couple of minutes. At this point, put the squash into the hot oven, it will roast perfectly in the time it takes you to put together the rest of the barlotto.
Make up 1 litre of hot stock in a large jug with 2 stock cubes*
If your using it, pour the wine into the pan and stir into the barley, keep stirring regularly as you add the stock little by little to the bubbling pan. It should take about half an hour to incorporate all the liquid over a medium heat, it’s useful to find something else to do nearby in the kitchen, to relieve the boredom of pouring and stirring; like reading a good book, or making a salad, or explaining what you’re doing in great detail to an inquisitive 2 year old.
After 25-30 minutes, move the 2 year old to one side and take the squash out of the oven. Squeeze the soft garlic cloves out of their skins straight into the barlotto and mash into the creamy mixture with the back of a wooden spoon. Remove any woody or burnt bits of rosemary and tip all the roasted butternut squash into the pan too, giving some of the soft chunks the same treatment as the garlic. The idea is to incorporate some of the soft squash into the sauce, and keep some chunky pieces.
Finish the risotto with the cream cheese, grated cheddar and/or yeast flakes, stir each, some or all of these into the sauce and taste before adding salt and pepper (the cheeses/cheese substitutes can be quite salty and the yeast gives a good punch of flavour so you may not need extra salt at all). If the mixture has thickened too much during the finishing touches slacken the sauce off with a little more hot water.
Due to the robust nature of the barley, and from a little bit of internet research, I’d imagine this recipe would fare quite well in the slow cooker (with the squash and garlic roasted separately and added at the end). I’ve never made slow cooker risotto before because you have little control over the liquid intake, and I suppose also because it feels like a dish which needs a little more love and attention… but I’m happy to be proven wrong.
This works out at about £1.20 per portion, with a selection of the optional ingredients included.
* I use a Kallo organic garlic and herb stock cube and a low salt vegetable cube in this … if you read my blog regularly you may have noticed that I’m a bit of a Kallo stock fan! I should probably get some sort of commission.