One of my favorite winter foods is warm and savory butternut squash. I also happen to love risotto, however it is usually loaded with tons of calories, carbohydrates, and fat due to the rich arborio rice and cream used to make these dishes extra creamy and flavorful.
Due to this I work to avoid risotto, that is until I found out that Pearl Barley can be used as a substitute for risotto and it turns out amazing!
This amazing pearled barley contains as much protein as a cup of milk and has 6 grams of soluble fiber. Count me in!
Paired with butternut squash, this Butternut Squash Barley Risotto is a sure to become winter classic. Not to mention a great vegetarian option without feeling deprived.
I put all of the ingredients in the crock pot and got busy cleaning the house. In 4 hours dinner was ready and delicious.
The pearled barley soaked up the broth just like risotto, minus all of the labor intensive stirring, making a rich and creamy base for the softened and sweet butternut squash to nestle.
I added a little spinach and vuala! Instant healthy and creamy comfort food without butter or cream! Isn't life beautiful?
Okay, now on with the recipe! Happy New Year!
Butternut Squash Barley Risotto
1 Medium Butternut Squash (about 4 cups), Peeled and Seeded, Cut into 1/2 inch Cubes
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Shallots; Sliced Thin
2 Fresh Springs Rosemary
2 Cups Pearl Barley
4 Cups Low Sodium Fat Free Chicken Broth
2 Cups Water
Salt and Fresh Cracked Pepper
2 Cups Frozen or Fresh Spinach
2/3 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1. Let's start with the butternut squash. Slice in half and scoop out the seeds. Then peel the outer 'shell' off using a pairing knife or a triangle vegetable peeler. Then slice into 1/2 inch cubes and set aside.
2. In a large skillet heat the olive oil and place the sliced shallots in hot oil. Saute for 2-3 minutes or until the shallots soften. Remove the rosemary leaves from the stem (I do this by pinching the bottom of the stem and running my opposite hand along the leaves in the opposite direction of their 'flow' and they fall right off!). Place the rosemary leaves in with the shallots and cook until fragrant, another 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the barley to the skillet and continue cooking for another 5-7 minutes. The barley will begin to smell nutty and brown. Make sure to stir and agitate the skillet frequently to avoid burning the barley.
4. Transfer to a large crock pot set to high. Add the butternut squash, chicken broth, and water. Stir to combine all ingredients. Cover and allow to cook for 3 1/2 to 4 hours on high heat.
5. After 3 1/2 hours the barley should have absorbed the excess water and the mixture should be thickened. Add a pinch of salt and pepper (about 2 tsp each) and the spinach and parmesan cheese. Stir to combine and cover and allow to cook for another 15 minutes. Stir as needed.
6. Serve in large bowls with extra Parmesan cheese and cracked pepper. This is delicious and completely satisfying!
Servings: 6 main dishes
178 calories / 5.2 g fat / 14 g carbohydrates / 4.2 g fiber / 6 g protein
Mental Health Benefit: Using pearl barley instead of traditional arborio rice saves you 380 calories and 82 g carbohydrates per cup. Now if that isn't a steal I don't know what is. Not to mention it provides double the fiber and the same amount of protein. Plus you won't miss out on any of the flavor or rich creamy texture. In fact I think the pearled barley actually provides a more rich and creamy flavor than arborio rice, original risotto maker. So relax, stuff the crock pot and enjoy with the winter comfort food reformed to meet even your wildest New Year's resolutions!