Every season brings it’s own colors, fragrances, sounds, flavors…. and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Whenever autumn rolls around my senses seems to know it and I crave comforting food. Pumpkins are one of those iconic vegetables we harvest in the fall… and no one knows what to do with it. Paint it, right? Put a candle in it? Wait, we can eat those outside of baking them into a pie?? … Why yes, yes you can.
Last night I was hungry for creamy, comforting, and savory. You do that too, right? You know, you stand in the kitchen, waiting for the craving to come to you. Sometimes I even close my eyes and press my tongue to the roof of my mouth, inviting that craving to come to mind. This is what hit me so this is exactly what I made… and it absolutely hit the spot.
This recipe is not a traditional risotto recipe using a short grain rice such as Arborio but rather a whole grain that I had on hand and cooked in the style of a risotto. The barley lent itself nicely to this recipe because it holds a natural bite or chew to the center of each grain which was much enjoyed. This recipe is also completely appropriate for a vegan diet as it contains no cheese or dairy at all which are also traditional components. I’m not vegan myself but I enjoy not being required to eat certain ingredients at every meal; I like to change things up. With this being said, this dish was so comforting, creamy, and satiating due to not only the main ingredients but also components such as a great vegetable stock and the natural cream in the coconut milk. Feel free to enjoy this dish as either a side to a main entree, such as maybe grilled eggplant or roasted chicken, or as a stand alone, small-bowl type meal.
Barley Pumpkin Risotto
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1# diced pumpkin, without skin or seeds
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp. minced fresh sage
salt & pepper
2 more Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 cup pearled barley
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups vegetable stock
1, 14 oz can of unsweetened coconut milk with its cream
Using a large stockpot or sauce pan, heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers showing it is ready, add the diced pumpkin and lightly add salt and pepper. Cook until the pumpkin is nearly cooked through. The diced pieces will turn from opaque to transparent as it cooks. This initial stage will take roughly 15 minutes. Add the onion and sage and continue to saute until both the onion and the pumpkin are cooked through and showing signs of browning (mine took about 8 more minutes). Remove the pumpkin/onion mix from the pan and reserve on the side to add back later.
Bring the 4 cups of vegetable stock to a simmer in a separate saucepan on a nearby burner.
In the now empty original pot, add 2 more Tbsp of olive oil and heat til shimmering over medium-high heat. Add the barley and stir, coating the barley in the oil and very lightly toasting. Add the white wine and allow to reduce to nearly all evaporated. Pour 1 cup of the simmering vegetable stock over the barley and stir. Throughout this process you will want to stir frequently, essentially washing the barley over and over to pull out the starch. You will need to add the stock in 4 additions of about 1 cup each time. You don’t have to measure it exactly but just estimate while keeping in mind how many additions you have yet to make. Do not add all the stock at once as this will not give you a creamy risotto. By adding the liquid in stages and stirring frequently the grain releases starch into what will become the sauce. After each addition of stock, when the liquid is about 2/3 evaporated and everything is looking creamy and moist rather than bobbing in soup, that is the time to add more stock. These four additions will take about 50 minutes or so. Stay with me! It will be worth it! If your stock does not contain salt, add salt and pepper very lightly as these flavors will intensify as the dish continually reduces. If your stock does contain salt, you may not need to add anymore to the dish at all. Just keep this in mind.
After the last addition of stock and when it looks like you would normally add another cup of liquid, add the coconut milk and reserved pumpkin/onions and stir. Continue cooking until the grain has reached the desired level of chew and the sauce has reduced to the consistency you desire. I enjoy my risotto with a bit of chew in the center of each grain and a slight slouch as you ladle the grain into the dish.