We are just getting used to the new school schedule, wearing more clothes and looking ahead to all the autumn and winter holidays. Taking a new baby into the fold means that I am currently pureeing first foods and have started with butternut squash. Since my fear of having a child who only eats rice or bread is constant (and at the same time realising that it is likely inevitable with at least one of them), I am always tucking in a flavour here and there, sage into the butternut squash, cardamom into the carrots, mint into the peas, etc. This in preparation for a few months from now when I simply puree whatever we are eating that day.
Since I had extra roasted butternut squash at hand, I decided to make one of my favourite autumn dishes which combines some of the best early autumn has to offer: hazelnuts, butternut squash, sage and pearl barley. I am told hazelnut harvest in Italy came early this year due to the warm weather. It’s a pity as we had hoped to go hazelnut picking as we had bought a share in a hazelnut grove for my father last Christmas. We will have to help him eat his hazelnuts- watch this space for hazelnut cakes, hazelnut biscuits and more.
The crunch of the hazelnut offers contrast to the soft, sweet roasted butternut squash, the gooey caramelised onions, the chewy pearl barley which pop in your mouth and the crispy fried sage leaves. The browned butter echoes the nuttiness of the hazelnuts. Not only is this dish delicious but it is also versatile as it is naturally vegetarian without even trying to be by just using vegetable stock instead of chicken. Risotto rice can substitute the pearl barley to make it gluten free. Vegans can also substitute the butter for olive oil and eliminate the cheese and cream without detracting from the original flavours. This dish is also the perfect vegetarian dish for Thanksgiving.
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Orzo perlato con zucca, salvia, cipolle caramellate e nocciole (pearl barley risotto with butternut squash, sage, caramelised onions and hazelnuts)
1 kilo pumpkin or butternut squash, skin and seeds removed and diced 1.5 cm cubes
8 sage leaves
60 mls extra-virgin olive oil
75 grams hazelnuts, skinned
1 shallot, peeled, ends removed and finely sliced
60 grams butter
500 mls chicken stock
320 gms pearl barley, rinsed
30 mls single cream
20 gms Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Black pepper, freshly ground
Heat the oven to 180C. Place the pumpkin on a sheet pan and toss with the 50 mls (3 tablespoons) olive oil, 3 sage leaves, salt and pepper. Bake until the pumpkin can be easily pierced with a fork and is tender, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast the hazelnuts on a separate pan in the oven until golden, about 5 minutes. When cool, cut in half.
Place the shallots and 10 mls (2 teaspoons) of olive oil in a small frying pan over low heat. Stir occasionally until soft, about 5 minutes. Add 10 gms of butter and cook for 2 minutes. Add 100 mls of chicken stock and cook until the liquid evaporates and the mixture is sticky.
Place the pearl barley and remaining chicken stock in a saucepan and cover. Cook for 1 hour until tender, adding hot water if necessary. Stir in the single cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir in the pumpkin.
In a small frying pan, heat the remaining 50 gms of butter with 5 sage leaves until melted and the sage wilts. Pour over the pearl barley mixture and stir to combine. Serve with the hazelnuts sprinkled over the top and dot with the caramelized shallots.