Barley risotto with butternut squash and portobello mushrooms

Time for barley to get its turn in the spotlight!

This delicious grain, grown all across Canada, is an inexpensive, nutritional powerhouse. There’s a great campaign – complete with recipes – now on Facebook and the web to promote barley consumption, particularly since Health Canada confirmed last year that eating barley helps to reduce blood cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. Barley is also a source of many essential vitamins and minerals, including thiamin, niacin, folate, riboflavin, iron, calcium, potassium and more. The barley we buy is is tumbled to remove the husk and bran from the outside of the grain, but because barley has bran throughout the grain, the processing does not significantly deplete barley’s impressive fibre content; look for pot barley which is less refined than pearled. Barley is also low in gluten, making it a good choice for people with sensitivities to wheat. Barley is also available in flake and flour form; I’m looking forward to incorporating it into a lot more of my cooking and baking.

In this recipe, you might notice that there is a bit more liquid for the volume of grain in this dish than if you were making risotto with the traditional Arborio rice; that’s because the barley takes a bit longer to cook. Rest assured – your patience will be well-rewarded by this yummy and satisfying dish that my taste testers called “restaurant worthy”.


  • 1 medium butternut squash peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2” cubes
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil, divided
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 cups (1 L) chicken or vegetable stock (look for low-sodium if using storebought)
  • 4 – 5 cups (1 – 1.2 L) water
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) pot or pearl barley, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup (250 mL)  white wine (optional; can replace with stock)
  • 2 Portobello mushroom caps, sliced 1/4” thick (optional)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese (omit for vegans)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) butter, divided (omit for vegans)
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) minced fresh chives
  • 1/8 teaspoon (0.7 mL) ground nutmeg


  • Preheat oven to 400F.
  • Put cubed squash in a bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Dump the coated squash onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread out to form an even layer. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Roast the squash until tender (it should pierce easily with the tip of a knife); about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside (this can be done up to 6 hours ahead).
  • When ready to prepare risotto, put the broth and 4 cups of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low and cover the pot to keep the liquid warm.
  • Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to a second, larger saucepan. Add the diced shallots and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook about 30 seconds.
  • Add the barley to the onion mixture. Increase the heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, about 4 minutes, to toast the barley a little.
  • Add the wine and cook, stirring, until the liquid has evaporated (about 2 minutes).
  • Stir in 3 cups of the warm broth. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 20 – 25 minutes.
  • Add 2 more cups of the warm broth and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 10 – 15 ­minutes more.
  • While barley continues to cook, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large saucepan and sauté Portobello slices over medium-high heat until nicely browned on both sides.
  • Continue to cook the risotto, stirring often and adding 1/2 cup of the remaining broth at a time as needed to keep the pan bottom from becoming dry (about every 4 minutes), until the grains of barley are cooked through but still somewhat firm in the centre (this can take anywhere from 10 – 15 minutes). You may need to add up to 1 cup of hot water if the barley is not as soft as you’d like. During this last cooking stage, add the cooked squash and mushrooms to the risotto and stir them in very gently.
  • When the barley is nicely tender (but not mushy), remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, half the chives and the nutmeg. Stir well. Season with salt and pepper to your taste and serve in heated bowls.
  • Garnish with grated cheese and remaining chives.

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a side dish.

Author: Paula Roy

Welcome to my kitchen! I love simple dishes prepared with passion and am always seeking to find new methods to make food as fun and flavourful as possible. If you enjoy this space be sure to check out my Rogers TV Ottawa cooking show, Paula Roy's Favourite Foods, available on local cable, streaming and a dedicated playlist on Rogers TV's YouTube channel.

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