When I die, I hope they carve these words on my headstone: She always found a way to add more vegetables. (It will be an enormous headstone, naturally.) I'm always looking for a way to add more vegetables to recipes, not only for health reasons, but also because I'm lazy. Why make a grain dish and a vegetable dish for dinner when I can combine them both into one bowl? Especially if that bowl is filled with creamy butternut squash studded with chewy nubs of barley and crunchy toasted pecans.
Orzotto, or pearl barley cooked like risotto, is a specialty of the Friuli region in northeastern Italy, but this recipe is not authentic regional Italian cuisine. It is the bastard child of an orzotto and one of my favorite risotto recipes — Melissa Clark's Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Lemon, from her book Cook This Now — with the addition of more vegetables. Of course.
The genius technique Melissa Clark employs is shredding the squash in the food processor, so it melts into the rice as it cooks, making an already creamy dish even creamier. My version flips the ratio of vegetables to grains, so the finished dish has all the soul-satisfying starchiness of the original, but is actually more squash than barley. And the finishing touch of toasted nuts adds a crunchy textural contrast that's especially nice if you are serving this as a main dish rather than a side.
Either way, you've already got your grains and vegetables covered. If only lazy always tasted this good.
Creamy Butternut Squash Orzotto with Toasted Pecans
Adapted from Cook This Now
Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side dish
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and seeds removed
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 cup uncooked pearl barley
1 leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup white wine
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock (preferably homemade)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Cut the squash into chunks small enough to fit through the feeding tube of your food processor. Fit the food processor with the shredding blade and shred the squash. (You will have about 6 cups of shredded squash.) Set aside.
In a saucepan or Dutch oven, melt the butter (or warm the olive oil) over medium-high heat. Add the barley and sauté until grains are golden brown and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the leek and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring, until the liquid has almost completely reduced, about 1 minute.
Add the shredded squash, stock, thyme and salt, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until barley is cooked through but still chewy and squash is falling apart. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately, topped with a sprinkling of toasted pecans and grated cheese, if desired.
(Images: Anjali Prasertong)