Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash and Fried Sage

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash and Fried Sage

Even with well over fifty diverse cookbooks lining my bookshelf, I keep returning to same tome time and again—The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. I love how the folks at America’s Test Kitchen are meticulous in their recipe research and can always be depended on for fool-proof dishes accompanied by crystal clear instructions. It’s this guarantee of deliciousness that keeps me coming back for everything from cinnamon rolls to roasted beets to Thanksgiving turkey.

Late last year, America’s Test Kitchen released a companion book to my beloved three-ring bound bible: The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook. I am forever on the search for dishes that pack a mean nutritional punch without sacrificing taste, so I knew this book would be a keeper.

The first “healthy” dish that I tackled was barley risotto with butternut squash—the fried sage was my own not-so-virtuous addition. Using barley in place of arborio rice, this version boasts more protein and fiber than traditional risotto without forgoing any of the dish’s characteristic creaminess. I appreciated how the hearty grain also added a toothy bite and nuttiness to each spoonful. Now, if only the Test Kitchen’s clever scientists could figure out how to reduce the amount of time spent behind the stove. Then, this recipe would truly be perfect.

For risotto

  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about  3 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups pearled barley
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 cups grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For fried sage

  • 10 sage leaves
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Coarse salt

Make risotto

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash and Fried Sage

Adjust an oven rack to the upper middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the squash with 2 teaspoons of the oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and spread out over the prepared baking sheet. Roast the squash until tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes; set aside until needed.

Meanwhile, bring the broth and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover to keep warm.

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash and Fried Sage

Combine the onion and 1 teaspoon of the oil in a large saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the barley, increase the heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, until lightly toasted and aromatic, about 4 minutes. Stir in the wine and continue to cook, stirring often, until the wine has been completely absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Stir in 3 cups of the warm broth and half of the roasted squash. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 22 to 25 minutes. Stir in 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, 15 to 18 minutes longer.

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 center, 15 to 20 minutes longer.

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash and Fried Sage

Off the heat, stir in the remaining roasted squash, cheese, butter, sage, and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Make fried sage

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash and Fried Sage

While the risotto is cooking, make the fried sage. Gently melt the butter in a frying pan. Once the butter begins to bubble, add the sage leaves. Fry the leaves on both sides until crispy, approximately 5 minutes. Drain the leaves on paper towels, sprinkle lightly with salt, and set aside.

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash and Fried Sage

Before serving, garnish the risotto with grated Parmesan and fried sage leaves.

Serves 8. [For Printable Recipe Click Here]

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8 Responses to “Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash and Fried Sage”


  • Eating risotto with sage tonight! Love that combo. I’ve never tried using barely and I barely have any excused why I shouldn’t.

  • This looks amazing and I will be trying it this week. I couldn’t agree more about America’s Test Kitchen. They are spot on every time.with what they do. Thanks for sharing this. Love the photos!

  • that looks so good cathy!

  • We own the ATK Healthy Family Cookbook, and we absolutely love it. This risotto looks fabulous. We have tried the pear crisp (wonderful) and two of the salad dressings. The Caesar is incredible!

  • I’m going to have to try this version now! I love the sage and nutmeg – I bet the flavors really pop with the squash!

  • That looks delicious. I need some cooking lessons from the Gastronomer!

  • This looks fantastic! I’m making a more traditional butternut squash risotto tonight to pair with mustard crusted haddock tonight. I’ll have to make this one next to compare and contrast! What did you serve this with? Or was it the main?

  • Made this for dinner tonight and it was exceptional. I just happened to have all the ingredients on hand and I’m so glad I found this recipe! The only change I made was to roast the squash in honey as well as oil – it added an extra level of caramelization. Thanks for sharing!

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