Oftentimes, I prefer cooking barley like risotto rather than boiling it, because adding broth slowly causes the grains to become creamy and swell. If you want to make the dish ahead, you have two choices: You can partially cook the barley and leave it covered on the stove to be finished before serving. Or, because barley risotto is heartier than rice, the finished dish can be reheated very successfully in the microwave.
8 oz. butternut squash (1 1/2 cups) cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas, at room temperature
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large sprigs thyme, plus more for garnish
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cinnamon stick (about 3-inches)
1 cup pearled barley, rinsed
1. To cook squash and peas, bring a deep saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add squash, cook until just tender, 5 to 7 minutes. When the squash is almost tender, add the peas. Cook 2 minutes, drain and set aside.
2. In a 3 1/2 to 4 quart saucepan, heat olive oil over moderate heat. Add onions and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Cover pan with a sheet of waxed paper and the lid, reduce heat to low and cook until onions are very tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let them brown.
3. Meanwhile, pour the stock into another saucepan. Add the cinnamon stick and thyme and simmer, partially covered, for 5 minutes. Leave on low heat. Stir the barley into the onions for 1 minute. Raise the heat to medium. Stir 1 cup stock into the barley mixture and cook, stirring slowly, until the barley has begun to swell and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 6 minutes. Add 1 more cup of stock and stir slowly until barley absorbs the stock completely.
MAKE AHEAD: The risotto can be held for up to 2 hours off the heat after the first 2 cups of stock are partially absorbed. Some liquid should be remaining in the pan. Cover and reheat before continuing.
4. Add 2 more cups of stock, one cup at a time, cooking until the stock is completely absorbed before adding the fourth cup. Barley is done when it is creamy on the outside and slightly firm (al dente) in the center, about 30 minutes. If barley is still too firm, stir in the remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time.
5. Fold in the peas and squash. Cook until heated through, 2 minutes. Season to taste. Garnish each serving with a small thyme sprig.
MAKE AHEAD: Risotto may be held at room temperature for several hours and reheated in the microwave.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
TIP: To easily peel squash, prick it several times with the tip of a sharp knife and microwave it for 2 minutes to soften and then peel with a vegetable peeler.