Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Broccoli Barley Casserole

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch as our family of 6 tries to eat on $6/day.

A little over a month ago, my sister announced that they were having something weird for dinner that night: farro. I thought she said 'sparrow' and agreed that that was incredibly weird. I also wondered out loud how ones goes about procuring and eating sparrow. We eventually got it straightened out. Turns out, however, that farro is just as hard to find as sparrow in Evansville. When I asked at the co-op--normally a fairly reliable source of weird food potential--the girl in charge hadn't even heard of it.

My sister suggested I use barley instead, saying that they had a similar texture. Which is what I did. And let me say that I've had barley before--mostly in soup, but this casserole really made me fall in love with it. It was chewy and perfect, and something about the textures in this casserole made me understand how vegetarians sometimes say that a meatless meal is sort of 'meaty.' For me, the barley provided a sort of meatiness. It was more toothsome and complex than something like rice would have been. Now, my brother-in-law loves this casserole so much that he wants my sister to make it every week, but for the record, and for purposes of full disclosure, Kip did not fall in love with barley in this recipe, nor did he find it to be in any way 'meaty.' So don't go telling your husbands that it's just like chicken, just tell them they have to eat it in front of the kids. Maybe they'll like it. Maybe they won't. Either way, tell them thank you if they eat it because, whether they deserve to be thanked for eating your perfectly delicious food or not, it'll help the next time around when you spring something weird on them. As long as it's not sparrow.

Broccoli Barley Casserole
Makes 9x13 casserole
Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Cost: $5.02
(olive oil: .02, onion: .10, barley: .60, broth: .10, Parmesan: 1.00, broccoli: .80, spinach: .15, garlic: .15, beans: .20, Montery Jack: .90)

4 tsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 C farro or barley
2 C vegetable or chicken broth (I used 2 bullion cubes in 2 C water)
1 1/2 C water (for the barley I ended up using about 2 or 2 1/2 C)
1 C shredded Parmesan (2 oz)
2 heads broccoli
1 C spinach, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (these can be skipped if you don't have them; a dash of hot sauce might also do the trick)
1 14 oz. can or 1 3/4 C rehydrated white beans (I used Great Northern)
3/4 C Montery Jack cheese (the original recipe called for fontina, but we're living cheap here)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1 tsp of the oil in large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add oil and cook onion until very lightly browned.

Sitr in barley (or farro) and cook until lightly roasted (about 2 minutes). Stir in the broth and water and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and continue simmering, uncovered, stirring often, until barley is tender and remaining liquid has thickened to a creamy sauce (about 20-25 minutes). (Note: When my liquid was nearly gone, my barley was still not done, so I added 1/2-1 C more water and cooked longer.)

Take off heat and stir in Parmesan. Taste and season with salt and pepper if desired.

While the barley is simmering, put the broccoli in a microwave proof bowl with 1/2 C water, cover it with plasic wrap and microwave for 2 minutes. (Alternately, you can steam it on the stove.) Drain water off.  

In a new pot, add remaining oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minutes until sizzling. Stir in broccoli. Add spinach and stir for a minute until spinach wilts. Off heat, stir in beans and cooked barley. Taste again and adjust salt and pepper. (Note: I followed this step, but I bet you could simplify this whole thing by adding the garlic and red pepper flakes at the beginning after the onion had browned and then once the barley had cooked and you'd added the Parmesan, just throw the broccoli and white beans into the pot.)

Position oven rack 6 inches from broiler and heat the broiler. If you're using a Dutch oven, sprinkle with Montery Jack and throw it into the oven. If not, put it in a broiler safe 9x13 inch pan, then sprinkle with cheese and broil it until lightly browned, about 3-5 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.


  1. i was searching for something i could make with the barley and broccoli i already had, and tried this recipe. mine ended up a little dry, but none the less yummy! a little too garlicky, i'm not a garlic person, i should have cut it down. thanks a lot though! just getting in to cooking :)

  2. It is a bit garlic-y and if that's not your thing, it could definitely be too much. I'm glad you liked it.

  3. I know this is an old post but I ran across this recipe on Pinterest recently and wanted to add some info about cooking barley for others. Barley normally takes around 45 min to cook and you typically want to aim for a 2:1 liquid to barley ratio - which is close to what you ended up with. It's pretty much exactly like brown rice and you can easily mix and cook them simultaneously for that reason.

    1. I love comments on the old posts too. Thanks.

  4. This recipe sounds delicious! I'm wondering if it would work to make ahead of time. Any thoughts or insights?

    1. You could make it ahead of time, although by the time it goes into the oven, it's nearly done. That said, you could make the barley, broccoli, etc., and then throw it together one night for a quick meal. Also (and maybe this is what you meant), it reheats really well, so you could make it and then reheat it later. It's delicious.



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