I have upped the nutritional content by using barley instead of Arborio rice for this comforting risotto.  You won’t lose any of the creaminess and you’ll have a delicious whole grain recipe to add to your repertoire.


Although risotto should be served immediately, there are several components of the dish – such as frying the sage leaves, roasting the squash and chopping the onions – that can be prepared in advance so you don’t have to spend too long in the kitchen once your guests arrive. 


Serve this as a first course, as a side with roasted or grilled meat or on its own as a vegetarian entrée.


Butternut Squash Barley Risotto with Fried Sage Leaves


1.5-2lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced

1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil (for roasting squash)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

6 C. low sodium chicken broth

3 Tbs. unsalted butter, divided

1 medium onion or 4 shallots, chopped

½ C. dry white wine

1 ½ C. pearled barley

½ C. freshly grated Parmesan

A dash of grated nutmeg

16 sage leaves, washed and dried (garnish)


1.       Melt 2 Tbs. butter in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the sage leaves to the pan and cook until slightly crisp.  Remove leaves with a slotted spoon or spatula and drain on a paper towel.   The sage leaves can be fried several hours in advance.


2.       Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss diced squash with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread in a roasting or sheet pan.  Roast squash for 15 minutes, toss, and roast for another 10-15 minutes or until squash is tender and golden.  Squash can be roasted up to 2 days in advance.


3.       Heat broth in a small covered saucepan until simmering.  Cover and keep broth at a slight simmer over low heat. 


4.       Heat remaining 1 Tbs. butter in a Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat.  Once melted, add the onion (or shallots) and cook until soft and translucent, about 5-8 minutes.  Add the barley to the pot and coat the grains with the butter-onion mixture until slightly translucent (this will prevent the barley from absorbing the liquid too quickly and makes the risotto more tender).  Add the wine and cook until absorbed, about 2 minutes.  Add about ½ C. simmering broth to the barley and cook, stirring frequently, until the stock is absorbed.  Continue adding the broth, ½ C. at a time, and stir constantly.  Let each addition of broth be absorbed before adding the next.  Cook until the barley is creamy but still al dente, about 20 minutes total.  (You may have leftover broth.) 


5.       Remove risotto from heat and add the squash, Parmesan and a dash of fresh grated nutmeg.  Stir until well combined.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish each serving with 2 fried sage leaves and serve immediately.


Makes 8 servings as a side or first course (serves 4 as an entrée)


·        By using a good technique to make risotto you can achieve the creaminess without the addition of any cream.  If you feel that you risotto needs a little more creaminess add 1-2 Tbs. of butter at after you stir in the squash and parmesan.


·        If you don’t want to bother with peeling and dicing the squash you can simply split it in half lengthwise, seed it, and roast it (cut side down) on a sheet pan sprayed with non-stick spray.  Roast until tender, scoop out the flesh and add it at the end of the recipe when you would add the roasted cubes.


·        Some variations on this recipe:  You can add pancetta to the risotto (dice it and cook it with the onions before you add the barley); add chopped sage or ground cumin for even more flavor. 


·        Don’t plan on making any extra for leftovers – I have yet to find a technique that keeps the creaminess after reheating it.