Pumpkin and Barley Breakfast Risotto


When it gets colder I want to eat hot cereal for breakfast. I'm not content with Quaker Instant Oats anymore, having graduated to more hearty grains.  As a kid, I ate the instant oatmeal packets.  Shudder to think how much sugar and preservatives I ingested.  Being from South Philly, I also ate a fair share of pastina, the tiny Italian pasta for babies - it's the most minuscule pasta grains, usually cooked with butter, milk and sugar or as a savory with butter, milk and cheese and almost always with an egg beaten into it just before it's done cooking.  During my love-affair with all things Martha Stewart in the 1990's, I got into toasting my whole grain, minimally processed lightly rolled organic oats before cooking them in a flavorful water and milk "bath".   Toasting the oats before cooking makes them taste nutty -  it's a good thing!  

breakfast quinoa porridge
These days I find that I want multi-grain oat blends, or breakfast couscous or I'll make quinoa porridge - as I wrote about on The Bicycling Hub's blog as a guest blogger a few weeks ago (read all about that here at this link!)  My co-worker, Phyllis, and I often talk about the many ways you can use barley outside of barley soup recipes.  One great idea that I've been wanting to try is using barley as a risotto.  It's kind of a misnomer, as a true risotto would use arborio rice but the idea is the same.  You bring out the starch from the grain in order to have the final dish be thick and creamy.  Barley is a wonderful naturally nutty grain, toothsome, hearty and protein dense.  It can be used for a side dish, breakfast, in spirit (beer/wine/whiskey) productions, in breads, as a soup and stew ingredient and as a breakfast cereal.  In short it's perfect and it is easy to cook. 

As I wrote in my guest blog post about quinoa, you can make a batch of barley risotto for breakfast but you can also use it as a savory meal, all by the application of what you decide to add to the final dish.  It's important to flavor the cooking water to start with a base of flavors.  I used a cinnamon stick, some chopped candied ginger, a pinch of clove and a generous dash of pure vanilla extract in the cooking water.  The featured picture  of my pumpkin barley breakfast risotto could have been my dinner if I had not added maple syrup and seasoned it instead with salt, pepper and olive oil.  However you decide to use this recipe, make it, you won't be disappointed and you'll have a new hearty winter recipe to make that will stick to your ribs on the cold days ahead.  I've made suggestions on dried fruits, seeds and nuts to embellish the final dish.  Use what you like and what you have on hand.

Pumpkin and Barley Breakfast Risotto Ingredients:
  • 1 Cup Uncooked Pearled Barley - rinsed
  • 3 to 4 Cups Cold Water
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons Candied Ginger - chopped
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Clove
  • 1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
  • Dash Kosher Salt
  • 1 Cup Pure Pumpkin Puree
For Garnish/Serving:
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Craisins
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Fruit of Choice - Apricots, Cherries, Pineapple, Dried Plums (aka Prunes), etc - chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons Flax Seed or Sesame Seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Toasted Coconut Flakes
  • 2 Tablespoons Toasted Nuts of Choice - almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, etc. - sliced/chopped
  • 1//2 Cup Skim or Low-Fat Milk  - warmed
  • Maple Syrup - to taste
Directions:
  1. Rinse the barley in a fine mesh strainer and shake off the excess water.  Add the rinsed barley to a 3 or 4 quart, heavy-bottomed sauce pot along with the 3 cups of cold water.  Add in the cinnamon stick, chopped candied ginger, ground cloves, vanilla extract and dash of salt.  
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium low and cook at a low simmer with a lid on the pot until all the water is absorbed and the barley is very tender but not mushy to the tooth, about 35 to 40 minutes.  If the barley is not cooked enough, add more water, a half cup at a time.  The end product should look creamy and the barley should still have some bite to it.  
  3. When the barley is cooked through, remove the cinnamon stick and then stir in the cup of pumpkin puree.
  4. Serve hot and fold in the dried fruits, flax or sesame seeds, nuts, coconut flakes and warmed milk.  Sweeten to taste with pure maple syrup or sweetener of choice.  
  5. Makes 4 to 6 servings.  Will hold for up to 1 week in a tightly covered container, refrigerated.  To reheat, heat in a microwave in one minute intervals, up to 3 minutes until heated through.  

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