Crispy-Topped Pearl Barley & Vegetable Bake
You can love it or you can hate it... bafflingly people tend to do the latter- which to me is amazing! I mean- what is not to love about yummy, chewy, fantastic and versatile barley? People of an older generation may remember a time when it was all they had to eat and may relate it to poverty or hardship... but seriously- this is 2013! We have things we can season it with nowadays! Pardon my language but- duh!
The bottom line is, that if you don't season them, neither potatoes, pasta nor rice are anything near edible- they are all bland if they are left to their own devices and yet we all love them once they have had salt, pepper and spices added in one way or another... and barley need not be any different at all! Except... tastier still!
Even this dish, which was very mild in its flavorings (again, due to my current illness only), was still very tasty and totally delicious. You could use any vegetables you prefer or have handy- in this case I used carrot, onion, potato, leek, tomato and kohlrabi... the important thing is that they cook together and that they infuse the barley with their flavor.
To make the barley, I first started off with finely diced carrot and onion, which I sautéed in a little butter this time, with a little crushed garlic- yes you guessed it- until the onion became translucent- and at that point I added the barley- I would say one and a half handfuls per person. I then seasoned it with salt, pepper, a little thyme, and just a touch of cayenne. I stirred it through and let it get nicely coated in butter, then deglazed the saucepan with enough boiling water to just cover the barley, then turned the heat down to a low simmer and let it bubble away for 10 minutes or so. At this point I also added a small potato. Just so. Don't worry all will be made clear shortly! And in the meantime I turned on the oven and got busy with the rest of my prep work...
The next vegetable to be added was the kohlrabi, which is very tender and cooks very easily. I added it along with a little finely chopped parsley, the sliced leek and a tablespoon of tomato paste. I stirred these in, added enough water again to just cover the barley and let it simmer on for 5 minutes more. After that time, the barley was almost doubled in size and that little potato was cooked enough for me to mash it down with a fork and to stir it back into the barley... aha! Now it becomes clear- it is there to thicken things up and to stop this from simply being a soup! I added a little nutmeg to the seasoning and with that I was almost good to go!
By now the barley was cooked but still very chewy... but that was fine- it was going to carry on cooking in the oven after all! So I transferred the barley and vegetables from the saucepan to a baking dish and then prepared some bread crumbs for on top. For those, I simply mixed grated parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, a little olive oil and sprinkle of pepper into the bread crumbs and I sprinkled that on top. I added a few sliced cherry tomatoes and pressed them down into the crumbs... and then popped it into the oven to come back up to temperature (I had it set at 350°F) for a further 10 minutes- with 2-3 minutes of broiler time to get it lovely and golden brown.
And there you have it! Simple as can be- but of course you can add more flavorings if you wish, use vegetable, beef or chicken broth to boil the barley and vegetables in, add bacon... any number of variations... and they will all be good! But this evening it was plain... it was simple... and it was real good! And I hope you all enjoy it!