Recipe: Creamy Butternut Squash Orzotto (Barley Risotto) with Toasted Pecans

updated Jan 29, 2020
Creamy Butternut Squash Orzotto with Toasted Pecans
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(Image credit: Anjali Prasertong)

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 combines orzotto with 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.

(Image credit: Anjali Prasertong)

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.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Creamy Butternut Squash Orzotto with Toasted Pecans

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


  • 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)


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

Recipe Notes

• This recipe works well with other hard winter squashes, such as kabocha, buttercup and pumpkin.

• Use olive oil instead of butter, vegetable stock instead of chicken, and skip the cheese to make this recipe as a very satisfying vegan main dish.

Adapted from Cook This Now


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