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Barley with Pesto and Summer Squash

September 23, 2010

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Summer is unquestionably winding to a close. Of course, its official end came earlier this week, but the farmers markets are still full of tomatoes, I’m still getting fat bags of basil from my CSA, and the days, at least in Walla Walla, are still warm and sunny. However, the decided chill in my house in the mornings makes it clear I don’t have much longer to enjoy summer’s bounty. I’ve been on a canning and freezing binge this week, putting up the last of the produce to enjoy when the days are much shorter, but in the midst of that frenzy, I made this simple summery dinner of barley, crookneck and patty pan squash, and an improvised basil tomato pesto.

It doesn’t look like much, but the flavors are outstanding. It’s fast and easy and filling, and makes for terrific leftovers. If you don’t feel like a bowl of grains is sufficient for dinner, it would be pretty great served alongside roasted or grilled chicken. And the leftover pesto sauce makes for an easy pasta dinner another night.

This pesto is a little thinner and brighter tasting than a traditional basil-only pesto, thanks to the addition of a few juicy tomatoes. It’s more like a pistou, I suspect, without the pine nuts or walnuts to make it thicker and meatier. But it’s dead simple, and it was also excellent mixed with pasta and sauteed eggplant for another dinner. It’s thin enough that it would probably make a killer salad dressing.

Basil Tomato Pesto

  • about 2 cups loosely packed basil
  • about 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup grated parmesan
  • about 1/3 cup olive oil
  • tomatoes (it’s hard to say how many: I used 2 medium-small yellow tomatoes, a little bigger than cherry tomatoes; I’d say I had about 1/2 a cup or 3/4 of a cup, chopped)
  • salt to taste

Blend the basil, garlic, and parmesan together in a blender, and slowly pour in the olive oil. You want enough to make the sauce loose and easily pourable. Add the tomatoes and blend until the whole mixture is smooth. Add salt to taste.

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Barley with Pesto and Summer Squash

  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 1 cup broth or water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • about 1 1/2 cups chopped summer squash
  • 2 diced chiles (I used Jimmy Nardellos, which are about 3 inches long and an inch thick)
  • about 1/3 cup Basil Tomato Pesto
  • salt and pepper to taste

Add the barley and water to a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and allow the barley to simmer until it’s cooked through and the water is absorbed, about 30 minutes.

10 minutes before the barley is done cooking, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and squash and stir well. Let the squash cook, stirring only every minute or so, until it’s soft and begins to brown in places. Stir in the chopped chilis and let cook another few minutes. Once the barley is done, stir it into the skillet with the vegetables and cook until any remaining water is absorbed. Then stir in the pesto, and season to taste.

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It’s kind of amazing how much flavor this has, considering how simple it is to make. That’s the best part about summer produce: You barely have to cook it to end up with an amazing dinner. I can almost guarantee I’ll be dreaming of this particular dish in the middle of February, when I’m anxiously awaiting the days of tomato overload. I will grant you, though, that I’m starting to really anticipate some butternut squash, cooked up with sage and thyme, and perhaps some lovely roasted cauliflower. I guess there are things to be glad of in the kitchen any time of year.

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