Applied Behavior Science for Health and Happiness
Recipe: Baked Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash and Spinach
Recipe: Baked Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash and Spinach

Recipe: Baked Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash and Spinach

Recipe- Baked Barley Risotto WithHere’s a healthy, meat-free recipe for a dish that can be thrown together quickly on a weeknight. This baked barley risotto with butternut squash and spinach from Real Simple is cheesy and filling without being greasy or heavy.

This is a recipe I initially tried when my sister-in-law made it. I’ve always enjoyed barley in soup, but this was the first time I had it as the primary grain in a dish. It’s pleasantly chewy. I wouldn’t confuse either the taste or texture with arborio rice, but it’s also not a stretch to call this dish “risotto.”

This dish is already vegetarian. It can be made vegan with a few ingredient swaps–I found one blogger who subbed nutritional yeast and ground sesame seeds for the parmesan and claims it works. I’ll stick to the parmesan, but would love to hear how your adaptations come out.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small butternut squash (about 11/2 pounds)—peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 5 ounces baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (2 ounces), plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter


  1. Heat oven to 400° F. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large oven-safe saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the squash, onion, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring often, until the onion begins to soften, 4 to 6 minutes.
  2. Add the barley to the vegetables and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the broth and bring to a boil; cover the pot and transfer it to oven. Bake until the barley is tender, 35 to 40 minutes.
  3. Stir in the spinach, Parmesan, and butter. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Amy’s notes and tips

  • I am more likely to have chicken broth than vegetable broth on hand, so I typically use that. I don’t find it alters the flavor.
  • You can make this vegan by subbing olive oil for the butter and omitting the cheese, although I would look for something to sub in for the cheese since it does give the dish a creamy texture.
  • Personally I find butternut squash difficult to peel and quarter. It takes me forever. And that means this dish isn’t as quick to make as it should be. Two shortcuts:
    • Sometimes I buy the pre-cubed butternut squash from the supermarket produce case
    • Or, I peel and cube the squash in advance and freeze it. It can be added directly to the pan from the freezer or defrosted earlier that day
  • I don’t measure the squash precisely. I use a whole medium squash and it’s usually the perfect amount.
  • I’ve tried this with sweet potato and found that while it still tastes good, the sweet potato doesn’t hold its texture as well as the squash. It ends up becoming creamy.
  • This can either be a side dish or a main dish. I like the leftovers for lunch.