I've been really interested in barley lately. I even went out and bought a box of quick-cooking barley in order to make a soup. The soup is as yet unmade, but Giada has offered me another way of sampling this grain in its true form (you know, other than in my breakfast cereal). Since I can't make anything with eggplant yet, I figured this was the perfect time to try out her cheesy baked farro recipe. It requires no eggplant. What it does require is farro, which is hard to come by in the US, at least in Cleveland. However, some internet research (one link uncovered during a google search) confirms that barley can be substituted for farro. They cook up exactly the same.
Thus, I ran out to my nearest grocer and bought a nice generic bag o barley. I wanted to save the box of quick-cooking. That soup might get made yet. I also bought a few other essentials I didn't have lying around the kitchen.
Barley N Cheese
(the Kate-ified version of Giada's Cheesy Baked Farro)
What you need:
1/2 stick of butter
1/4 c flour (unbleached)
2 c warm milk
salt and pepper
2 1/2 c grated or shredded Parmesan cheese (I used shredded)
1 1/2 c other assorted Italianish cheeses (I just used mozzarella)
6 c veggie broth
2 c barley (rinsed in a colander with very tiny holes)
1 tsp fresh thyme (straight from the garden)
2 c mushrooms (I used baby bella)
3/4 c halved grape tomatoes
1/2 c bread crumbs
1. Do not preheat the oven if it's the middle of the summer. It's too soon and there's a lot to do before anything goes in the oven. If you do preheat right now, you will swelter for the next 20 minutes in an overly hot kitchen wishing you had just listened to reason. There'll be time later to turn on the darn oven. Just wait. Be patient. Do, however, spray a 13 x 9 pan with cooking oil.
2. In a saucepan, melt the butter over med. heat. Add the flour and whisk, whisk, whisk. Slowly add the milk. Hey, did I say to stop whisking? Whisk some more. Simmer for 8 minutes, whisking all the while. Don't you stop whisking. Keep at it. Whisk like you have never whisked before. Don't you slow down. All right, you baby, switch arms. Don't let the butter-flour-milk mix boil. And whisk. Whisk. Whisk.
When the 8 minutes are up, remove from heat and yes, it's alright to put the whisk down. Salt and pepper liberally, even if you usually vote conservative.
3. In pot on med-high heat, bring the broth to a boil. Add the barley, lower the heat, and simmer for about 25 minutes, until tender. Drain the barley.
4. In a skillet, heat 2 T olive oil over med-high heat. Add mushrooms and salt and pepper. Cook for 8 minutes. Add the tomato halves and cook another 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
5. Now, you can preheat the oven. No need to thank me. In a large bowl, combine the cheeses and the thyme. Remove 1/2 c of this cheese mix and hold in reserve. Add the barley, sauce, and mushroom mix to the cheese bowl and stir. A lot. Season. A lot. Then, pour it all into the 13 x 9 pan. Sprinkle that last 1/2 c of cheese on top with the bread crumbs. Drizzle some olive oil across the top too.
6. Bake about 25 to 30 minutes. The top should be golden brown. Don't serve right away unless you want to burn your mouth. (We both know you don't want that.)
This stuff is just the ultimate in adult grain and cheese recipes. It's macaroni and cheese, but with a richer flavor, whole grain, and vegetables included. Not only that. It's also quite filling, so you don't eat as much and aren't left hungry again at 9 p.m., thinking about whether or not you should succumb to a giant bowl of popcorn. If it wasn't so filling, though, I'd compare it to crack. It took us four days to use up the leftovers, but I never got tired of eating it. It's just that good.
I also had a side of salad, complete with baby red lettuce and kale from my garden (along with a little bagged romaine and ranch dressing). The greens are coming in and surely, the eggplant will follow shortly. I mean, the bushes are flowering. That means the fruit should come soon, yes?