Toasted Barley “Risotto” with Roasted Cauliflower

One evening, in the mid-seventies, our family had neighbours over for dinner.  Their recent high-school graduate daughter had just returned home from a Katimavik type course.  We were told that she was now a “vegetarian” which sounded a lot like “alien” coming out of my mom’s mouth.  What to serve?  Mom had recently adapted to our father’s new diabetic diet, and now here she had to come up with another special dish.  She created a mushroom barley casserole (using tinned mushrooms) that fit the bill. While we chatted and heard the stories of groups of young people finding their way (I still have visions of everyone in corduroy caftans with wooden bead necklaces), I watched as Mom’s casserole emptied.  Everyone was eating it to the last scrap.  I was so proud of her, how clever!

Nowadays, when cooking for even just a couple of guests, there seems to always be someone who’s intolerant or allergic to certain foods, or on a special diet due to a more severe medical condition.  Mom used to toast the barley in her version of essentially an oven-baked barley risotto.  Here I’ve toasted the barley, and roasted the cauliflower giving the dish a wonderfully earthy flavour, so that once again, every last scrap will get eaten.  I’ve put quote marks around risotto, as there isn’t a “scrap” of rice in it!

Serves 4


1 head of cauliflower – cored and chopped into small pieces – about ½“ slices and then chopped

¼ c olive oil (2T + 2T)

salt & pepper

1 c pot barley

6 c stock – chicken or vegetable

5 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

½ c dry white wine (room temperature)

½ c pecorino cheese (about 100 gr or 4 oz)

2 T butter

a handful of parsley, coarsely chopped


Preheat the oven to 425°

In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 T of the oil, and about ¼ t each of salt & pepper

Spread on a parchment lined baking sheet (or two if you need more space)

Roast for 30 minutes in the top half of the oven, if using only one sheet.

While it’s roasting, heat a heavy bottomed Dutch oven (at least 4 litre or quart size) over medium heat.  Add in the barley and stir until it is toasted and fragrant, about 8-10 minutes.

Remove from the pot to a bowl, reserve.

Heat the stock in a medium size pot to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.

While the stock heats, heat the remaining 2T of oil in the large pot, add in the sliced garlic and cook at medium heat until the garlic is golden, about 3 minutes. 

Add in the barley, stirring until all is covered with the oil.

Slowly add the wine to the barley, stirring constantly, until it is all absorbed.

Using a ladle (if you have a 4 oz, that’s best) add in about ½ c of the simmering stock to the barley.  Stir as you did the wine, until all is absorbed.  Continuing adding stock, ½ c at a time, and stirring, until all the stock has been used.  This can easily take up to 50 minutes.  You don’t have to watch it like a hawk.  Stir for a bit, drink some wine and talk to your dog or your guests.

Once the barley is creamy and tender, add in the roasted cauliflower.

Stir gently, but thoroughly, you don’t want to mash the cauliflower.

Then add in the butter, cheese & parsley.

Stir until the butter & cheese has melted.

Serve with a crisp green salad alongside.

Options & Additions:  using Pearl Barley instead of Pot Barley – it is polished, and doesn’t have quite the nutritional goodness of Pot Barley, and it will cook faster, using less stock.  If you’re in a rush, this will take off about 15 minutes.

Bacon – 4 slices: chopped, cooked & drained – amazing

Arugula – add in a big handful or two when you add in the cauliflower.  A little bit peppery and bright green – how can you go wrong?

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