A lot of the time, I don’t really know what I’m cooking until the food is already halfway done. Most meals in our house answer the question, “What can one make with that?” – lucky for us, things usually turn out pretty well. This time, I felt like having a risotto-ish dish. We had barley, pumpkin, sage and zucchini, so that’s what I used. And the result was pretty darn delectable if you ask me.
how to make a creamy no-dairy “risotto”
- First, turn your oven on and set it to 205°C / 400°F. Dice about two fists’ worth of pumpkin (or squash). Aim for a cube roughly the length of the tip of your index finger (you may have to peel the pumpkin before cutting it if the skin is thick; I did not need to do this with my hokkaido pumpkin). Arrange the cubes in a single layer in a baking dish or on a baking tray. Lightly rub the pumpkin with olive or vegetable oil, sprinkle it sparingly with salt and pepper, plus any favourite dried herbs or even garlic powder. Bake until just tender all the way through, about 35-40 minutes.
- In the meantime, start by preparing about 750mL – 1L of vegetable stock. Either make your own or add stock cubes/powder to water in a pot, and keep it warm on the stove.
- Then, heat up roughly 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a second pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add 1 small onion (or ½ a large onion or 2 shallots), diced, to the pot and cook gently until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Next, turn up the heat slightly and grate in half of 1 large zucchini (zucchina?) using the wide side/large holes of a box grater. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes, then grate in 1 or 2 cloves of garlic using the small holes of your grater. Throw in a couple of teaspoons’ worth each of fresh thyme, rosemary and sage (use less if dried). Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper and continue to cook over medium heat until the everything is nearly transparent and soft.
- Now, add about 1 cup of pearl barley to the pot, and cook while stirring until the bottom of the pan goes dry. Add ½ cup of white wine and stir it through until absorbed if you like, or skip the wine if you don’t. Ladle in some stock one or two ladlefuls at a time and stir it in, cooking until absorbed. Repeat this for about 10-15 minutes.
- Take the other half of your zucchini, and now grate it in using the small holes of your box grater. It should almost look like zucchini purée. Continue adding stock and stirring for about another 10 minutes. Taste a grain of barley to check if is cooked through (but still has some bite). Add another ladleful or two of stock, stir it through and take the pot of the heat. Once the pumpkin is cooked, stir it through your barleyotto. Taste again and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Serve in deep plates or shallow bowls, and top with a drizzle of olive oil, extra sage, salt and pepper or chili flakes.
Wondering what’s up with the grated zucchini? Turns out it does an excellent job of giving you the creamy consistency risotto is known for, without having to use butter or Parmesan! Tastes great and it’s lighter on the stomach too. Ideal for when you’ve run out of these ingredients, or simply if you don’t like to eat dairy.
You can always make this dish without the pumpkin too.