Pumpkin & Barley Salad

Although this salad works warm or cold, summer or winter...when you have pumpkin gently roasting in the oven, it just makes the house feel a little bit cosier.

This is how you can tell my sister's wedding is still on the horizon...where I would normally be posting recipes of puddings or cupcakes...or anything dessert related, instead I'm sharing salads! But, it's a good one and you can tweak it so many different ways that I'm keeping this in my regular collection.  In fact, I first made this the weekend my sister and I did nothing but make wedding invitations...so it's perfect for lunch on the run...it makes you feel like you've actually eaten something (aka not rabbit food!) and I think it's pretty healthy. The nuts/seeds and the barley make it a kind've crunchy salad...which the softness of the cheese and the pumpkin offset nicely.  Luke is one of those people that react strongly to texture in foods and I wasn't sure what he was going to think but he didn't mind it as much as I thought. As for me...loved, will keep making & tweaking :)

I found the recipe via Smitten Kitchen...big fan of Deb's blog, her photography & wanting her cook book big time! I made some changes to suit the ingredients I'm more likely to have on hand or find in Safeway.

Butternut Pumpkin & Barley Salad (inspired by Smitten Kitchen)
Serves approx 6-8, keeps in fridge for up to a week

1  butternut pumpkin
Olive Oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Nutmeg to sprinkle
1 cup pearled barley
1/3 cup toasted pepitas & pine nuts (sprinkled with mild salt flakes during toasting if you like)
About 3/4 cup (85g) goat's cheese or ricotta
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
1/2 red onion, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 190C (375F). Chop the pumpkin. I usually get butternut pumpkin halves, and chop across ways so I have `half moons' of pumpkin that are about 1-1.5cm thick. Place in bowl and drizzle with olive oil & mix them around a bit to ensure they're lightly coated.  Place in oven proof dish (I use a Pyrex lasagne style dish) lightly greased and sprinkle the side facing upwards with freshly ground pepper, salt and nutmeg. Cover dish with foil and put in the oven for as long as it takes for the pumpkin to feel mostly cooked through when poked with a fork. Flip and season other side, return dish to oven without foil covering and keep an eye on pumpkin...you want it to get a bit crispy around the edges, or a little browned but not burned. Put aside to cool slightly

In the meantime, follow the instructions on the packet of barley for cooking 1 cup. I normally put 1 cup in 5 cups of simmering water on the stove for about 45 minutes. Towards the end of that time, I take pieces out and test them...you don't want them overly crunchy but you also don't want them soggy. When done, remove & drain (I sometimes give it a quick rinse) and let cool slightly.

In the meantime again,  get a small container, whisk together red wine vinegar, water, salt & caster sugar until the grains dissolve slightly. Add the red onion and stir to coat, screw on lid and leave in fridge to pickle slightly...normally about 30 minutes, returning to stir/shake container every now and then to make sure onion properly soaked.

To assemble, chop the warm roast pumpkin into cubes and throw into large bowl. Add the roasted seeds/nuts, barley & pickled onion (along with the liquid it pickled in) and about 2tbsp of olive oil. Combine gently with crumbled pieces of whichever cheese you  chose and taste to make sure everything is seasoned to your liking. Serve.

The first time I made this I used goats cheese, the second time ricotta. I liked the extra punch of flavour the goat's cheese provided, and I also liked the subtleness of the ricotta. I also think the saltiness of fetta would work really well but I haven't tested that yet. So next time I would probably do a combination of ricotta/goat's...and maybe a little bit more than 1/3 cup because let's face it , you can never have too much cheese :) I have added spinach...and would also add grilled chicken as an extra to make it go even further.  I also like to warm it slightly on the day after when serving. Check out Deb's post for some more ideas of substitutions and the original unmodified recipe.

Hope you like it as much as I do...and don't worry, dessert posts are just around the corner :)

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