Each spring, the sight of the first new crop of vegetables sets my heart all a-flutter. My head swims with recipe ideas as I spy freshly-harvested asparagus, fiddleheads, wild garlic and more at local farmers’ markets. One of my favourite ‘first veggies’ dishes is pasta primavera, blending a garlicky, cheesy cream sauce with loads of lightly-sautéed vegetables. It occurred to me the other day that cooked barley might make a great base for primavera sauce, and, as it turns out, I was right! I’ve written before about barley’s great nutritional benefits and I have to say, I actually enjoyed this dish more than the linguine version I fed to my doubting family. The tender barley lapped up the sauce beautifully and I felt happily full for many hours afterwards. It would be delicious with any combination of sautéed vegetables – the more, the merrier!
1 cup pot barley, rinsed
2 shallots, minced *
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons white wine
2 cups heavy (35%) cream
½ cup freshly grated parmesan
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
8 small mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
12 spears asparagus, tough ends removed; cut remainder in ¾ inch pieces
½ cup fresh or frozen green peas
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon white wine
additional parmesan for grating or shaving as a garnish
Note: this dish is best made with true shallots, not green or cooking onions
- Put the barley in a sieve and rinse with cold water. Put barley in a large pot and add several inches of cold water (enough to cover the barley by at least 2 inches). Cover and place over high heat; as soon as it comes to a boil, turn it down so it is just barely simmering.
- Simmer the barley until it is tender; about 45 minutes. Drain and return to the pot and cover to keep warm.
- While the barley cooks, make the primavera sauce. Start by melting the butter on medium heat in a medium pot then add the minced shallots and garlic. Sauté until just tender, about 3 minutes.
- Add the white wine to the pan and let it bubble away till the wine is almost gone (3 – 5 minutes).
- Add the cream and adjust heat so it boils gently for a few minutes; the cream should thicken slightly.
- Add the grated parmesan; taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
- When sauce is complete, sauté the vegetables. Start by heating 2 tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan.
- Add asparagus, carrots, mushrooms and zucchini. Sauté over medium heat till all vegetables are just barely tender (3 – 4 minutes), stirring often.
- Add ¾ of the cooked vegetables to the cream sauce, reserving the rest for garnish.
- Add peas and white wine; sauté for 1 minute more, increasing heat so wine evaporates.
- To serve, divide barley among four serving bowls (broad soup bowls are ideal).
- Top with sauce and then divide reserved vegetables among the four bowls, arranging attractively on top.
- Garnish with shards of parmesan and a bit of chopped parsley.