Fall in Minnesota conjures up certain images in my mind: crisp sunny days, apple orchards, and maple trees ablaze with red, orange, and yellow leaves. In contrast, the beginning of this October has been gray and damp, with near constant drizzle and winds blowing leaves off the trees before they even get a chance to completely change color. Depressing fall weather is even worse than depressing winter weather. In February and March, at least I can be heartened by the fact that the end is in sight and spring is coming. In October, all I can do is morosely contemplate the impending bleakness of winter.
The one bright spot in all of the recent fall gloom is winter squash: in our CSA, at the farmer's market, and on sale at the grocery store. Squash is a vegetable that I didn't gain an appreciation for until adulthood (conversation with my mother: "You eat squash now?"), but I am nearly as enthusiastic about winter squash as I am about its summer cousin, zucchini. Our CSA keeps us well supplied with butternut, buttercup, acorn, spaghetti, and carnival squashes, and I find myself buying even more at the farmer's market. My favorite thing to do with squash is to simply bake it, and eat it right out of of the skin sprinkled with salt and pepper or brown sugar. However, I also adore squash soup, coconut squash rice, and barley risotto with butternut squash. The baked squash gives the risotto a creamy texture that makes it hard to believe that it contains only a mere tablespoon of butter and a half cup of cheese. The easiest way to make this recipe is to use an oven-safe saucepan or Dutch oven; since I don't possess either, I transfer the risotto to an oven-safe dish for baking. Peeling the butternut squash is the most tedious part of the recipe. I use a trick that I think I got from the Splendid Table: cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Then, cut the squash width-wise into inch thick pieces, and peel each piece. I find it slightly easier to peel the individual pieces than to finagle the peeler over the bump of the squash while whole or halved.
Adapted from the Real Simple recipe by Sarah Copeland
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into one inch pieces
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 3/4 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 5 ounce package baby spinach (about 2 cups)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan or Dutch oven, preferably oven-safe, over medium-high heat. Add the squash, onion, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the barley and stir to evenly coat with olive oil.
Stir in the broth and bring to a boil over high heat.
If necessary, transfer mixture to an oven-safe baking dish. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes, or until barley is tender. Remove from oven and stir in spinach, Parmesan, and butter until spinach is wilted and butter is completely melted.