I haven’t always been a big cook. In high school, I rotated between phases of grilled peanut butter sandwiches, tortillas filled with cheddar and nuked in the microwave until crispy, and nighttime bowls of cereal. In college my palate expanded a bit, due to the blessing of a well-stocked cafeteria, but it’s not a stretch to say that I never so much as looked at an oven for those four years. Post college, I found myself living in an apartment with no cafeteria, and since there are only so many nights you can eat cereal for dinner before you realize you have a problem, I decided I needed to learn a thing or two.
One of the first recipes I learned and loved involved sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, and barley, which happen to be three of my favorite things (“favorite things” post high school, of course). Until recently, I hadn’t made the recipe in a couple of years, and decided it needed to be brought back, but adapted to fill the needs of my super sophisticated taste. See, my “sophisticated taste” had gone through a cereal-for-dinner relapse while feeling sick for a couple weeks, so I wanted some extra veggies to make up for the nutrient deficit (In my mind this is how things work…don’t ruin it for me). To provide some vitamin oomph, I added a couple more of my favorite things: spinach and artichokes… Remember how I feel about artichokes? Yeah, it’s an intense love. Anyway, read on for a throwback recipe delicious enough to convert a kitchen novice into, well, someone who tries really hard.
Barley Casserole with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Artichokes
Adapted from the hunky Robert Irvine’s “Vegetarian Barley Casserole” on FoodNetwork.com.
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- 3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
- 1 small onion, chopped finely
- 1 1/2 cups quick pearl barley
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup (about 2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
- 4 tablespoons pesto, store bought, or homemade)
- 8 ounces sun-dried tomatoes
- 8 ounces artichoke hearts
- 3 ounces spinach
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a sauce pan over medium heat, bring the broth to a simmer. In a separate pan, over an adjacent burner, saute the onion in 2 tablespoons of canola oil over medium heat until soft and translucent. Then add the barley, and stir it with the oil and onion until it is lightly toasted, 2-3 minutes.
Pour in the white wine, along with the oregano, and stir until the wine is fully absorbed, another 3 minutes or so. If your arms are tired, prepare yourself for some pain…let’s just say ambidextrous cooks will have an easier time with this recipe, because now the stirring really begins. Add the broth, one cup at a time, stirring until the mixture absorbs the broth, then add another cup. It’s important to stir constantly, because it brings out the starch in the barley and makes it more risotto-esque. Once all the broth has been ladled in and absorbed, stir in the ricotta and the goat cheese until fully incorporated and perfectly creamy.
Rinse off you artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes. I know, I know, “the marinade tastes so good, though!” you say…well it does taste good, if added to a bland dish, but this dish is nothing close to bland, so rinse them, okay? Rinse them good, and then chop roughly. Also chop your spinach, but with a tad more detail, since you’ll want the pieces somewhat small, but you want larger chunks of artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes.
Heat up 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the chopped veggies, and stir for 2-3 minutes, juuuust until the spinach gets soft. Remove the vegetables from the heat, and get ready to assemble!
Start by spreading half the barley mixture into a 8 x 8 inch baking pan coated with cooking spray. Top the barley with 2 tablespoons of pesto, then half of the vegetable mixture. Repeat one more time, then sprinkle parmesan on top.
It will be pretty, but don’t get distracted, you need to get that baby in the oven. Cover it with foil, then put it in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, and let it cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the parmesan has melted to your liking.
Try to resist cutting into it for 5 minutes or so. That will allow the casserole to set, so when you take out a piece it holds together nicely. It will taste good whether you eat it in one piece or in pieces, but as long as we’re making a casserole, let’s try to do things right, k?
I’m always a bit fearful when I tweak a previously successful recipe, cause if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? As I’d hoped, the additions actually improved an already delicious meal. Just like in the old days (2 years ago), the barley was creamy with a tangy bite from the goat cheese, and the pesto melted into the other layers, infusing the entire pan with basil. This time, however, the artichokes and spinach expanded the texture beyond just the sun-dried tomatoes, and added some variety to keep things interesting (and nutritious!) from the first bite to the last scrape of a clean plate.
Every bite reminded me why this recipe was strong enough to catapult me into the cooking world. Each of the elements are great on their own, but together?…Watch out folks, cause things get out of hand. Besides being creamy, cheesy, and layered with deliciousness, this recipe is the queen of leftovers. The flavors blend even better with each day, so it heats up perfectly for lunch or dinner when you’re feeling lazy. Or, you know, if you’re out of cereal. Even sophisticated palates throwback to their high school days every now and then, right?