First posted: May 20, 2019

Barley and Gem Squash Risotto


I’ve said it before – if I had to live anywhere else besides Africa, it would probably be the rolling hills of Tuscany, in a simple but breathtakingly beautiful villa (naturally), flanked by rows of iconic cypress trees (obviously), with every imaginable edible anything flourishing in the back garden (to be picked by the small hands of Sophie and Isla, of course). ANYWAY, where I’m headed with this is that I LOVE Italian food. I love that it’s built on the goodness of the ingredients, and in doing as little as possible to them so that their natural flavours get the chance to shine. And in winter, I love an endlessly creamy risotto, fluffy with parmesan and full of promise. I also have a bit of a thing for the earthy nuttiness of barley (that is so beguilingly budget-friendly) and the calm comfort of gem squash (it reminds me of many sunny Sunday lunches). And so it made perfect sense to me to marry them together. And where we ended up was somewhere pretty magical, and I hope you’ll try it soon.



Cooks in:        Serves:4

  • 3-4 gem squash, halved
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary, or use thyme or oregano
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup barley, rinsed
  • ½ cup white wine (optional, otherwise use extra stock)
  • 2 cups good quality chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan (or hard cheese of your choice)
  • Fresh parsley, roughly chopped, to serve (or oregano)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

What to do

1. Add your gem squash halves to a large pot of salted boiling water. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until cooked through and the flesh can be easily pierced with a knife. Remove, drain and set aside to cool before removing the seeds.

2. Meanwhile, add your butter and olive oil to a large heavy-based pot over medium-high heat. When the butter starts to foam, add in your chopped onion and herbs and cook for 10 minutes, or until the onions have softened and are translucent.

3. Add in your garlic and barley and stir well until the barley is well coated in any remaining oil and butter. Add in your wine and stir until the liquid has been absorbed, about 5 minutes.

4. Add in your stock and milk and leave to simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the liquid has been absorbed and the barley is cooked through and creamy. Add a little extra water along the way if necessary. It should be creamy and not too dry.

5. Scoop out the flesh of the gem squash and add it to the risotto. Stir until everything is well mixed together. Add in your Parmesan, check for seasoning and serve immediately in warmed bowls with a little extra grated Parmesan and fresh parsley to garnish.

Photo by Curtis Gallon.

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