This is one of the few meals that really will come together in 30 minutes on a weeknight — in one dish. It makes excellent leftovers, too, but the barley will get sad and yucky if you try to reheat it more than once. Very yummy stuff. I made it once as my contribution to the “Casserole Brigade” for some family friends having a rough time, and they say it’s the first time their kids have ever eaten spinach without complaining. So there.
You’ll need one of those large, deep skillets that come with a lid. (Well, you won’t need the lid for this recipe, but that’s the kind of cookware you should use. It should be at least a fist deep, how’s that?)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil — I never really *measure* the olive oil for this recipe. Just sort of drizzle it in to let the bottom of the pan get good coverage, but you don’t want it to have any depth to it.
- salt and pepper
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 cups quick-cooking barley — look for it in the soup aisle at the grocery store. It’ll probably be in a little box. Pearled barley will work too, but it’ll take longer to cook.
- 28 oz of diced tomatoes (see below)
- 1 cup white wine (dry, if you prefer) — this is optional. Why do I have so many recipes that call for wine?
- 2-3 large handfuls of baby spinach — you can use mustard greens here, or use more than a few handfuls, if you want to be wild and crazy. Whatever you use, it should be fresh and not canned or frozen/thawed. They’re just too wet to work properly.
- 2 ounces soft cheese — I used mozzarella, but you can use something else if it gives you the flavor you’re after (like maybe brie or taleggio, even). Again, I seldom measure. We’re talking about a cup or so of cheese, chopped or shredded such that it’ll melt easily.
- 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan — Romano or another, drier, cheese would work here. I probably use a bit more than this most of the time. You can blend it in or leave it on the table for people to sprinkle on their own servings.
I seldom get super-specific about ingredients, but these are the yummiest diced can tomatoes I’ve ever had, and they really make the dish. I don’t even drain them. It’s possible that these are the reason the dish works Just Fine without adding wine.
Begin by heating the oil in your pan over medium heat. Add the diced onion, along with some salt and pepper. Stir occasionally and cook until tender, about 6-8 minutes. You want the onions to start looking a little bit translucent. Now, I tend to have PROBLEMS with dicing onions…as in, I’ve recently had stitches. Here’s the method I have been practicing quite successfully:
Once the onions are ready, add the tomatoes, wine (if you’re going to use it), the barley, and about 2 cups of water. You can drain the tomatoes if you like, but I usually don’t bother, especially if I’m not using wine. Stir well and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender. That’ll be about 12-15 minutes. Do not cover this glorious creation. People will begin wandering into the kitchen, asking what’s for dinner and when it’ll be ready. Make them set the table.
Once the barley is ready, add the softer cheese (mozzarella) and blend, then toss in the greens until wilted. That’ll be about 3-4 minutes. Serve right from the skillet. Accept praise.