This Pesto Barley Salad looks really healthy, right? Balanced, vibrant, and potentially packed with a good stack of vitamins. It looks that way because it is! I know this is a shock, especially after I warned you things were going to get dangerously decadent from now until New Years. Don’t go thinking I’ve gone back on my word. I have recipes planned that will rob you of every last reserve of willpower you have. But not today. Today, I bring you a salad because we are in the midst of that blissful gap between Canadian Thanksgiving and Halloween. So, let’s give a few vegetables a whirl. You know, just to say we did.
In all seriousness, I do love a good salad. Yes, I’m sure this is a little out-of-left-field, given my recipe track record, but I too crave fresh vegetables from time to time. Usually, this craving manifests itself as a craving for a candy bar or a BigMac would. When I want a salad it has to happen, like, now! And whenever I get an insane craving for a Granny Smith apple when I’m leaving a bar at 2 am, I take it as a sign my insides are dying and they would very much like not to. When I decide that pizza at 2 am is unappetizing but a whole roasted cauliflower just sounds right, I’m probably in the beginning stages of a vitamin deficiency or something, right?
Okay, I’m not a total train wreck, I played it up for a laugh. I haven’t seen 2 am in a long while because I’m seeing 4:30 am every morning instead. Yes, I am one of *those* people now, I’m an early riser. Not only that, I’m the kind of early riser you really want to punch in the face because I get up and run. I know, my inner cynical teenager is gaging.
But yeah, I’m not what you would call an unhealthy a person. But most of the time, eating right doesn’t just happen. It’s not something that I instinctively crave, I almost always want the bad stuff. I don’t always want the bad stuff after I’ve eaten the bad stuff but you get the picture. This blog is sort of a direct reflection of the cravings that generally march through my head on the daily. And I suppose today’s recipe is too, it’s just the other side of the same coin. It’s the angel on my shoulder as opposed to the devil, who is a real talker, let me tell you.
All of this is to say that after Thanksgiving wrapped up here in Canada, all I could think about were salads. Just all salads, all the time. It was like my body was actively rejecting my new, festive lifestyle. And in all of this daydreaming about salads, today’s Pesto Barley Salad was born and it is freakin’ perfect.
Now, you may have noticed there is a total lack of leafy greens up in this salad bowl and that was by design. I actually don’t really enjoy traditional salads because I feel like I’ve been traumatized by less-than-stellar raw greens too many times. You know, the mushy, gooey leaves that people sometimes miss while washing the greens? Yeah, I’ve encountered more than a few. I also hate washing and drying leafy greens. This hatred cannot be overstated. So, I do tend to avoid a large crowd of greens whenever I can. I, of course, do eat green salads, I even have a few leafy greens represented on this here blog, but when you’re delving into my personal salad fantasies, you’re not going to come across a lot of romaine.
Most of the time when I do make green salads, I need a lot of other stuff to distract me: nuts, cheese, snack foods that have no business being in a salad. But because today’s Pesto Barley Salad didn’t have a leafy green base, I only had to add one cheese. One! This is a big moment for me.
So, let’s talk about this carb-based salad. Well, the vast majority of this Pesto Barley Salad is, you guessed it, pearl barley. Fluffy, chewy and nutty, pearl barley is the king/queen (I don’t know how it identifies) of grains and it’s a complex carb, so it’s totally salad material because it isn’t garbage for you. Now, because barley is fluffy and wonderful, it grabs sauces like you would not believe, so it only made sense to bring in pesto. Not your average pesto, pumpkin seed pesto. Gotta keep things seasonal.
And speaking of keeping things seasonal, buttercup squash. I freaking love this squash. It’s my favorite. It has a texture like velvet and a sweetness that just makes my heart sing. It’s low in water content and it caramelizes in the oven at the drop of a hat. And since I’d invited a sweet squash to the party, it only made sense to include a bitter green. Luckily, rapini was available.
So, that’s the skinny on this Pesto Barley Salad. It’s a snap to make and it’s hearty, satisfying and healthy (!). And you know what? Any night something like this winds up on your table, it’s a night to be proud of.
Pesto Barley Salad with Roasted Rapini & Buttercup Squash
- 1 cup uncooked pearl barley
- 3 cups water
- 1 batch pumpkin seed pesto see below
- 1/2 buttercup squash cut into wedges
- 1 large bunch of rapini washed and trimmed
- 1/4 cup olive oil divided
- 2 cloves garlic divided
- 2 teaspoons salt divided
- 2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes divided
- 1 200 g, 7 oz container of mini bocconcini, drained
- Pepitas for sprinkling
Pumpkin Seed Pesto
- 3/4 cup pepitas
- 2 cloves garlic peeled
- 1 20 g, 0.7 oz pack fresh basil
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 -1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup Grana Padano or Parmesan shredded
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/3 cup olive oil
For the Pesto
- Place the pepitas, garlic, basil, salt and crushed red pepper flakes in a large food processor and pulse until the pepitas are finely chopped. Add the cheese and set the food processor to low. With the food processor running, stream in the lemon juice and olive oil. Continue to blitz until a smooth, cohesive paste forms.
- Transfer the pesto to a bowl, cover and transfer to the fridge until ready to use
For the Salad
- Place the barley and water in a small saucepan with a healthy pinch of salt. Place the saucepan over high heat and bring the water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Let cook for 35 minutes or until most of the water has been absorbed and the grains are tender. You may have to drain away some excess water. Transfer the barley to a bowl and set aside.
- While the barley is cooking, preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Place the rapini in a large bowl and set aside. Mince the garlic and add 1 clove of it to the bowl with the rapini. Next, add half of the olive oil, half of the crushed red pepper flakes and half of the salt. Toss to coat and transfer the rapini to a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Add the buttercup squash to the now empty bowl. Add the remaining olive oil, salt, crushed red pepper flakes, and garlic. Toss to coat. Arrange the wedges on another baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Place the squash in the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Remove the squash and flip the wedges. Return the squash to the oven and add the rapini. Roast for an additional 15 minutes. Remove the veggies from the oven and set aside.
- While the veggies are roasting, take 3/4 cup of the pumpkin seed pesto and add it to the pearl barley. Stir the pesto into the barley until it is evenly coated. Add half of the bocconcini and toss to disperse.
- Transfer the dressed barley to a large serving platter and top with roasted squash wedges, roasted rapini, the remaining bocconcini and a sprinkling of pepitas. Serve immediately.