Barley and Butternut Squash Risotto

This one-dish, vegetarian meal is fall comfort food at its best. Earthy wild mushrooms, nutty barley and sweet butternut squash come together in an easy, nutritious meal that tastes much more involved and sinful than it is. Serves 6.

Ingredients

4 cups low sodium vegetable stock or broth
1 cup barley
3 cups sliced wild mushrooms, such as shiitake or baby bella
1 large sprig of fresh thyme, plus smaller sprigs for garnishing
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely diced onions
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup Arborio rice
2 cups fall greens, such as spinach, arugula or baby kale
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus a little extra
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper

Instructions
  1. Heat the stock or broth in a saucepan and keep at a simmer.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pot. Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned on the edges, about 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the onion and cook until it becomes translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more.
  3. Add the barley to the mushroom mixture and stir for 2 more minutes.
  4. Turn the heat to low, add about 2 cups of the hot stock to the rice mixture, and stir slowly until the barley begins to swell and most of the stock is absorbed.  Add the squash. Continue to add the stock 1 cup at a time, stirring slowly, letting the rice absorb the stock before adding more. The risotto is cooked when it is creamy on the outside and slightly firm (al dente) in the center.
  5. Remove the thyme sprig.  Stir the Parmesan cheese into the risotto. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the risotto is too thick, add a little more stock until it becomes creamy.
  6. Divide the risotto into serving dishes and garnish with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and a small sprig of thyme.

Tip for preparing butternut squash: Microwaving the squash for a minute or two will soften the skin so that it can be easily peeled. Be sure to pierce the squash several times with a paring knife before microwaving.

Nutrition Tip: About 2 cups of leafy fall greens such as arugula, baby kale and spinach can be folded to the risotto along with the last addition of stock or broth in Step #4.  Tougher greens like Swiss chard and escarole may be added along with the squash in Step #4.

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