Since my cooking has largely turned towards simple comfort food the past few days I've decided to post an old favorite that I have successfully served to many of my friends on a variety of occasions. It is the perfect blend of sweet, savory, nutty, and acidic to please almost anyone. The one drawback...it takes about a half hour to an hour of constant watching and tending and messing with three different things simultaneously (which, if you're me, is nearly impossible). Even so, the end result is well worth it and (an added bonus) this is the type of recipe that can be served hot (as a side grain) or cold (as more of a grain salad) and tastes even better after it's sat in the fridge overnight. It also makes a generous amount and so if you want, you could potentially live off of it for the better portion of a week. And so, without further ado, I bring you...
2 cups pearled barley
2 teaspoons salt
5 cups water
3 cups butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large red onion cut into 8 chunks and pulled apart a bit
1 tablespoon fresh sage minced
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup toasted walnuts
1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoon agave syrup (or 3 tablespoons sugar if you don't have agave)
2 tablespoons sage roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Bring the water and salt to a boil. Add the barley and cook 25 to 30 minutes until done but still a bit chewy (you want the barley to have a bit of structure). After 20 minutes, taste the barley, and continue to do so every 5 minutes until it is done. Meanwhile, combine the squash, onions, olive oil, 1 tablespoon sage, and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar in a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. While the barley and squash/onions cook begin the balsamic reduction sauce. Combine the 1 cup balsamic vinegar, agave nectar (or sugar), and 2 tablespoons sage in a small saucepan over medium/low heat. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is reduced by half and has the consistency of maple syrup. Be careful not to reduce by too much or it will become bitter, also, watch out for balsamic fumes as it is cooking, they are quite acrid. After all the components are completed, place the squash mixture, barley, and walnuts in a large bowl and toss to combine. Pour the balsamic sauce over the mixture and toss once more to mix thoroughly. Serve warm or move to the refrigerator and serve cold.
serves 6 to 8 (with pretty generous portions)