Butternut squash + Barley Baked Risotto

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If you haven't noticed already, I love butternut squash. I also love carbs. So I bring you a happy marriage of both. For this risotto, I opted for a slightly healthier version, using pearled barley instead. Personally, I love the chewy texture of barley. Contrasts really well with the creamy butternut squash purée. But feel free to sub in whatever grain you want!

Ingredients: 1 butternut squash 2-3 tbsp olive oil 2 slices thick-cut bacon 1 diced shallot 1 diced medium onion 2 tbsp chopped sage 2 tbsp chopped chives 2 cups pearled barley 4 1/2 cups chicken stock 2 tbsp sherry vinegar 1/2 lemon 1/4-1/3 cups freshly grated parmigiano reggiano

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Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Peel & cube butternut squash (making sure to remove the seeds!), then toss in a mixing bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Transfer to an oven-safe pan and cook for 20-25 minutes, until squash is tender.

Meanwhile, slice 2 pieces of bacon into slivers. Cook over medium heat until crispy in a med-large oven-safe skillet. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon and set aside. Add shallots & onions to skillet. Toss in sage + chives. Cook until shallots/onions are browned (6-8 mins) Add in barley and toast for about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock. Bring to a boil, mixing occasionally.

Remove butternut squash from oven. (Check doneness with a fork - it should slice through without much resistance). Throw into a food processor or blender with butter, salt, pepper, and 1/3 cup of water. Process until the squash is a smooth purée. Don't worry if there are still a couple chunks (delicious). Add to barley and mix until evenly incorporated. Mix in sherry vinegar & lemon juice. Grate in some fresh parmigiano reggiano, salt & pepper to taste.

Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees F, cover skillet, and place into oven. Let barley finish cooking/tenderizing for about 30-45 in oven.

My recommendation? Garnish with crispy bacon pieces, more grated parmigiano reggiano, and freshly ground pepper. Serve with roasted asparagus, cauliflower, or your veggie of choice for a super comforting meal. Keeps really well in the refrigerator. Reheat in a non-stick pan. Try it with an over-easy fried egg on top & a drizzle of your favorite hot sauce. Yum.

Miran