Weeknight Italian Barley “Risotto”


Please excuse my crappy phone picture!

This is a quick, easy, mostly-from-the-pantry meal that is easy to customize and great either as a main dish or a side dish, or even as a stuffing for things like squash (it’d be great in zucchini!). This recipe serves 2-3 as a main course or 4 as a side dish. If you don’t have barley, you could also use white rice or quinoa, just increase the cooking time to 20 mins. Follow the link below to learn more about barley! You can use whatever veggies you have, like zucchini or eggplant or mushrooms or any combination with this! You could also add a mild bean like Canellini beans to up the protein content.


  • 1 cup Pearl Barley (be sure you’re buying the QUICK kind, or else it kind of defeats the purpose of this being a quick weeknight dinner! If it’s bulk or unlabeled, assume it’s the slow kind)
  • olive oil for sauteing
  • 1/2 of a small onion, diced
  • 1/2 green or red bell pepper (or both), diced
  • 1 carrot, shredded or diced
  • 1 celery rib, diced
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, diced, or 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 15oz can of diced tomatoes (I used the basil/oregano flavor), plus one can’s worth of water or broth.
  • 1/2 tsp Italian herbs, or a mix of basil, oregano, rosemary, etc to your taste
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh basil, about 5 leaves, sliced
  • nutritional yeast or Parmesan to garnish (optional)

Heat a saucepan and add the olive oil and all the diced vegetables except the tomatoes. Saute until they are softened, about 7 minutes. Add your seasonings, the tomatoes, and water to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the barley, cover and reduce the heat to medium low for 10 minutes. Remove the pan  from the heat and allow to rest another 5 minutes at least. Stir in the fresh basil. Garnish with nutritional yeast or Parmesan cheese, and serve with a salad and fresh bread.

If you want to get fancy and use it as a stuffing for squash, cut your acorn or zucchini squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Preheat the oven to 400 and brush the inside of the squash with olive oil. Set the squash halves cut-side down on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until browned and the squash has softened. Fill with the barley mixture and enjoy!