Yummy Pearl Barley!
I made this meal, mostly for the benefit of a couple of dear work mates, who moth must have been badly traumatized in their childhood, with horrible experiences of being forced to eat even nastier concoctions with barley... and I just don't get it! So- Bene and Lucienne- what do you think of this? :-)
I used the word "sfizioso" in the Italian description of this dish- which means delicious, yummy, tasty... take your pick! it means anything that is good about food! And there was plenty that was good about this- but all good, down-to-earth stuff and as always with my dishes, pretty quick and easy to make too!
This looks very similar to a risotto, and had I not added pumpkin into the mix, I may well have prepared it in the traditional matter too- but that would have meant a longer cooking time, more stirring- and overcooked and soft pumpkin. So no- I used a pot and a pan- so I could boil the barley on it's own, ahead of the other ingredients and to save time and effort that way... common sense is your best friend in the kitchen!
So, the way I went about it was to boil the barley on a low simmer for a good half hour in salted water- and similarly to the boiling of rice, I used twice the amount of water to each measure of barley. So in this case it was 2 cups of barley and 4 of water... which makes a very generous serving!
In the meantime, I began to sauté a handful of ground lamb that I had left over from last night with half of a finely chopped red onion, some finely chopped garlic and ginger and a couple of handfuls of pumpkin. This was an unusual little orange and yellow skinned pumpkin, similar to butternut in taste and texture. I fried these together in the fat of the ground lamb only- no added oil or butter... but plenty of added flavors, such as fresh rosemary, parsley and thyme, a little grated nutmeg and a little cayenne. I sautéed everything together for 5-6 minutes until the meat was cooked through, the onion was translucent and the pumpkin had also changed color and begun to soften up a little.
I then added the barley, which had cooked down, swollen up and absorbed most of the water- but into the frying pan it went, water and all, and was stirred in well. The next thing I added was some tomato "passata"- the basic, pureed tomato base sauce and adjusted the seasoning once it was stirred in well. I let it simmer for a further 10 minutes, so that all of the flavors could infuse together and so that the juices could thicken up nicely... it was really, really good!
To make it better still, just 2-3 minutes before serving, I added a couple of finely chopped cherry tomatoes and a generous handful of finely cut chives- these both added a great fresh flavor and a splash of color... which together with a last generous pinch of coarsely ground black pepper made the humble grains of barley into delicious heroes of the day (or night!). And if you don't think that this looks and sounds delicious my friends... well I guess there is just no hope of ever converting you! But I am pretty sure you are going to love it... I sure did!