Squishy, sweet butternut squash, juicy mushrooms and savoury, warming sage – what a great cold weather combination. I like making this comforting risotto-like dish with Shiitake mushrooms as they are considered to be beneficial in shoring up the immune system – great fuel for a grey winter’s day. Simmering them gently with the barley and squash turns these rather withered fungi butter-soft, adding to the richness of this winter warmer. You could also include a grating of fresh ginger which is good for the circulation and works well with both the squash and mushrooms – as does chilli.
Pearl barley is often overlooked – find it with the packets of lentils and cous cous in supermarkets. It may be something you associate with your granny serving up in a stew – but it makes a lovely risotto and its slight nuttiness lends itself well to the earthiness of the mushrooms and sweetness of the squash. Pearl barley takes around an hour to cook – follow the instructions on the packet as it can vary from brand to brand.
Butternut squash is a pain to peel. I part-cook it first until the skin becomes baggy and wrinkly and then use a peeler to remove it.
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 large butternut squash
3 cloves of garlic
200g pearl barley
2 teaspoons of good quality vegetable stock dissolved in 600ml of hot water
1 box of Shiitake mushrooms (120g-150g)
A splash of apple cider vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Fresh sage leaves
Preheat the oven to 200 (fan)/220 (conventional)
- Start by preparing the butternut squash; slice it vertically in half and microwave on high for 10 minutes. Pop the halves into the oven for about 20-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, dice the onions and fry in a large saucepan on a gentle heat until translucent; slice the garlic thinly and add to the pan.
- Rinse the pearl barley under the tap and then stir into the frying onions. ‘Dry fry’ for a couple of minutes, stirring to stop it sticking to the base of the pan and then pour in a splash of vinegar and the lemon zest and juice. Tip in the vegetable stock, give it a good stir, bring to a simmer and let it cook gently (you may need to add some more water if the pearl barley begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, sometimes towards the end of the cooking time).
- When the butternut squash has finished its initial roasting, remove the seeds, peel and chop it into rough chunks and then add to the pearl barley.
- Let the risotto bubble away for another 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, and allowing the squash to break up and mash with the grains. Slice the shiitake mushrooms in half or quarters and throw them into the mix.
- Dry fry the sage leaves either in a saucepan or frying pan on a medium heat for a minute or so until they crisp up. Crumble into the risotto.
- The risotto will remain ‘soupy’ when fully cooked, thanks to the yielding qualities of the butternut squash, but the pearl barley will soften yet still retain a little bite in the centre. Check for seasoning – a few grinds of black pepper doesn’t go amiss and garnish with extra crispy sage before serving.