Turban Squash and Spicy Kale Barley Risotto

Turban squash is a very unusual squash in appearance. It's colors striate between green and orange and white, it's squat in shape and has a knobby head. But after buying my first turban squash, I grew quite fond of it, almost attached to it. It just might be the most beautiful of all the winter squashes. Which is why it is most recommend for use as a tureen, and why it took me nearly a month to take my turban squash out of the fruit bowl, and cut it open for this risotto style barley dish.

I did not want to use my turban squash for purely decorative purposes. It deserves more than that. As much as I loved looking at my beautiful turban squash, I was really interested in cutting that baby open, challenging though I knew it would be, and tasting it. I figured as beautiful and complex as it was on the outside, that characteristic must be present inside as well.

And, I was not disappointed. I wont lie, it was a challenge to cut into. And forget trying to peel it and cube it, that is a punishment I would bestow on no one. And certainly not on myself. I just cut it in fours, seeded and roasted it with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. The flavor was very nice and subtle, not as sweet as the other winter squash I have tried. It had a prominent savory and nutty taste, which complimented the hearty flavor of the barley. And it held it's shape nicely after roasting, making it a great addition to this style risotto.

This dish was also my first experience using Barley; And I am now a convert. Barley is a healthy cereal grain that has a nutty flavor and chewy texture, making it a great substitute for pasta (which does not have as much nutritional goodness.) And, to give barley even more weight, it was domesticated as early as 1500 B.C. It has to be pretty good if people have been eating it for that many thousands of years. And when you mix it together with the beautiful turban squash and spicy kale, it makes a winter dish that I will be repeating all throughout the winter.

 Turban Squash and Spicy Kale Barley Risotto
Adapted from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook
1 cup barley
4 Tbs canola oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
2 sprigs parsley
5 garlic cloves, grated
1 bay leaf
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups vegetable stock
1 turban squash, cut in fours and seeded
4 Tbs olive oil
salt and fresh pepper to taste
1 bunch baby kale
2 tsp red pepper flakes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a baking dish, place the four slices of turban squash, drizzle with 2 Tbs olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until soft, about 40-45 minutes. In the mean time, coat the barley with two Tbs canola oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix well to ensure that all the barley is evenly coated and lay out on a cookie sheet. Bake until well toasted, golden brown, about 20 minutes.
While both items are in the oven, get started on the base. Add the remaining two Tbs of canola oil in a large pot, and heat. Once warm, add the onions, jalapeno, parsley, bay leaf, and half of the grated garlic. Cook until very soft, about 10 minutes on medium heat. By this time the barley should be done. Add the barley and saute for two minutes. Add the wine and allow to cook down until almost dry, about 10 more minutes. Then add the vegetable stock, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 40 minutes, until the barley is soft. If it starts to dry out before then, add a bit of water.
While the barley is cooking, prepare the kale. Cut the kale into strips. In a large saucepan, heat 2 Tbs olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the kale, red pepper flakes, and cook until soft, stirring occasionally to make sure the kale cooks evenly. When soft, add 1 tsp of salt to enhance the flavor. Set aside.
By this time the squash should be done. Once cooled, cut into cubes. Once the barley is soft, add the kale and cubed squash, stir together, add salt to taste, and serve.