Barley with Rapini (Broccoli Rabe)

This recipe is inspired by two insights hard won by Bill Buford, as described in his book Heat: An Amateur's Adventures As Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany: that pasta chefs use water from cooking the pasta to emulsify and thicken sauces; that, historically, before corn arrived in Italy, Italians made polenta from barley. I thought: why not do a pasta/risotto-like thing with barley? While pasta is middling on the glycemic index, I find it kicks up my glucose levels a fair bit, and it is low on fibre, even the whole wheat pasta.

I used hulled barley for this. Hulled barley has had only the outermost hull removed. Barley also comes as pot barley (which is further polished but has some endosperm remaining) and pearled barley (which is highly polished).


Cook up your hulled barley as you would pasta, in a vigorously boiling pot of water. It takes 40-50 minutes to get the barley done to the chewiness level that you'd like.

Chop up a bunch of rapini (broccoli rabe) into 1 inch chunks.

Slice garlic cloves thinly (about three to four garlic cloves).

Heat olive oil over medium high heat.

Add a table spoon or two of chili flakes and the garlic; immediately turn down heat a bit, you don't want the garlic to burn, and sautee a bit until garlic goes a bit translucent or soft.

Add the rapini. Cook until it starts wilting and goes darker in colour. Then start adding little ladles (about 1/4 cup) of the water from the cooking barley, to help the rapini cook and to have the starches in the barley water bind and thicken the sauce.

When rapini is cooked to taste (I like it with a bit of tooth and volatile kick to it), scoop out your barley and mix it in (again, the water that clings to the barley will help make your sauce). Then add a bit more barley water to get a thickened sauce.

Serve with a bit of parmesan.


You can also do a recipe along the same lines, where you fry up onion, red peppers and chopped cremini mushrooms; add a mix of your favourite dried mushrooms, reserving the water from reconstituting them. Once you have added the barley mix in the reserved mushroom water.

Sautee heaps of garlic in generous amount of olive oil, turning down heat shortly after adding garlic; when garlic is translucent and getting to point of browning, turn down heat and add lemon juice, until garlic softens and lemon juice is blended in; add a bit of barley water and emulsify; add barley and more barely water to build sauce; remove from heat and optionally stir in a bit of yogurt.

Or generally, rework your favourite pasta recipes to use barley instead