The snow may have gone (at least it has down on the South Coast of the UK) and the sun may be shining, but there’s still enough of a chill in the wind to remind us that Winter isn’t quite finished with us yet. I’m really not a fan of the murky mornings and dark evenings – give me summer any day – but whilst the cold weather is still with us I might as well use it as an opportunity to cook hearty, comfort food. It also allows me to try out a couple more meat-free meals that I don’t think would sit well with warmer weather, such as this gloriously colourful Honey-Roast Vegetable and Pearl Barley Bake.
I feel that Michael needed a little bit of convincing when I first mentioned that I’d be using Pearl Barley here, presumably expecting it to be somewhat “worthy” instead of enjoyable, but I think he was a convert once I’d served up. I understand the hesitance as plain barley by itself is rather lacking in excitement, but let’s face it plain pasta or cous cous are no different in that regard. The trick is to get everything else to taste amazing and use the barley to bring it all together and turn it into a satisfying meal.
The use of the root vegetables here is not just because they’re in season (though that’s a bonus) it’s because of the intense, sweet flavour you get from them when they’re roasted. I have a vague recollection that as a child I was little wary of roast parsnips but as an adult I absolutely love them. Their earthy, sweetness and slightly scorched edges are an absolute joy – helped along here with the addition of a little honey glaze whilst they cook.
The same goes for roasted beetroot which here is both familiar and yet different from the more common pickled version. I absolutely love beetroot – with or without vinegar – to the extent that I can gladly eat a large bowl of it in one sitting without any regrets. It has everything going for it – there’s texture, there’s flavour, there’s colour. It pleases all of your senses in one go and not many vegetables do that. Just make sure you wash your hands when you’ve finished preparing it to avoid leaving a trail of fingerprints wherever you go…
Finally, to keep things a little lighter I added in the broccoli and spinach to bring a bit of verdant freshness to proceedings and they, along with the sharp goat’s cheese and balsamic glaze, tie up all of the loose ends and bring the dish together.
This recipe should make a good-sized meal for four but as there’s just the two of us it meant that we had the bonus of leftovers to take to work to the next day. Turns out this makes for a lovely cold dish, as well as hot.
Honey-Roast Vegetable and Pearl Barley Bake
Full of colour, full of texture and full of flavour, this honey-glazed vegetable bake with pearl barley is the perfect companion to a murky winter's evening.
- 250 g Pearl Barley
- 2 litres Vegetable Stock
- 350 g Parsnips peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
- 400 g Beetroot cut into wedges
- 250 g Broccoli cut into florets
- 1 Red Onion peeled and cut into wedges
- 2 tbsp Olive Oil
- 3 sprigs Rosemary leaves removed from stalks
- 2 tsp Sea Salt to taste
- 1 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp Honey
- 100 g Spinach blanched
- 100 g Soft Goat's Cheese broken into chunks
- 1 tbsp Balsamic Glaze see notes
Preheat your oven to 180°C
Cook the pearl barley according the pack instructions using the weak vegetable stock in place of water. Check your pack for instructions as it can take anywhere from 30-75 minutes, but either way it can be done at the same time that you're roasting the vegetables.
Put the vegetables into a large roasting tray, then drizzle with the olive oil. Toss well to coat with the oil then add in the rosemary leaves, salt and pepper and mix again. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes.
After the first 45 minutes remove the vegetables from the oven and drizzle over the honey. Mix well to ensure everything is coated then return to the oven for a further 30 minutes.
Mix the cooked barley and spinach in with the roasted vegetables, then place the goat's cheese pieces over the top. Return to the oven for a final 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and drizzle over the balsamic glaze before serving.
You can buy Balsamic Glaze in most supermarkets, but if you don't have any (or don't want to use the shop bought version) you can also make it at home. There are plenty of recipes out there - but in general you mix balsamic vinegar with brown sugar and reduce it over a moderate heat until it's of the preferred consistency. It makes for a great combination of sweet and sour in dishes like this.
This is also an easy dish to make Vegan by either missing out the goat's cheese entirely or replacing it with a non-Dairy alternative. If you do this make sure you let me know how you get on.