Butternut barley risotto

Barley has a fabulous chewy texture and nutty flavour that works well in a risotto in place of rice. It's naturally high in fibre and rich in the minerals manganese, magnesium and selenium, which all add up to help prevent heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Barley has a low GI, which means it is great for sustained energy and to help keep bloodsugar levels stable.

If you have some greens like silverbeet or kale on hand, add these to the risotto at the end — or leave the greens out and serve with a green salad instead. It's delicious either way. 

Eating risotto on the coldest of nights is like giving yourself a big, warm food hug!

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes 

Ingredients:

1 kg peeled weight butternut or Jap pumpkin, cut into small chunks 

1 Tbsp olive oil  

Good pinch dried chilli flakes

Leaves from 1 stalk fresh sage

1 Tbsp olive oil, extra 

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 leeks, white part only, sliced 

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 

250 g (1¼ cups) pearl barley, soaked overnight in cold water

1 glass dry white wine 

1 litre (4 cups) vegetable stock

½ small bunch silverbeet, spinach or kale (optional)

50 g (generous ½ cup) freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra to serve 

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 220° C fan-forced and line two baking trays with foil or nonstick baking paper. Toss the pumpkin with the first tablespoon of olive oil, chilli flakes, half the sage leaves and sea salt to taste. Place in a single layer on the baking trays and roast until tender and slightly charred around the edges, about 20 minutes. 

  2. Puree half the pumpkin with a little of the stock in a food processor until smooth.

  3. Heat the extra olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the leeks, onion, garlic and the rest of the sage along with a good pinch of salt and cook over a gentle heat for 5 minutes or until softened. Add the barley, increase the heat to medium and toast the grains for a few minutes.

  4. Pour in the wine and let it bubble until absorbed. Add 3 cups of the stock and the pureed pumpkin. Stir well, turn the heat to low, cover and simmer until the stock is nearly absorbed and the barley is almost tender, stirring occasionally. Check after 15 minutes. When almost tender, but still with a bit of bite in the centre, add the cubed pumpkin, the silverbeet, spinach or kale (if using) and as much of the remaining stock as you need (if you run out of stock, add a splash of water). You want the barley to be quite liquid. Stir well and continue to simmer over low heat for a few more minutes until the greens are tender.

  5. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan. Taste and add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Cover and allow to stand for a couple of minutes (this makes the texture creamier).

  6. Spoon into serving bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil and the extra Parmesan. 

Tips:

The barley in this version helps to keep you full for longer and is pretty quick to cook (just remember to soak the barley overnight, or for at least a few hours).

Recipe developed by award-winning cook and food writer Andrea Ball