Barley is a cold climate crop and one of the earliest cultivated grains. It has a nutty flavour and slightly chewy texture and makes a warming, satisfying dish when combined with winter vegetables. Instead of the sprouts used here, try carrots, parsnips or pumpkin, or replace the chestnuts with 100g of lightly fried pine nuts or flaked almonds for the last 10 minutes of cooking time.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Melt half the butter in an ovenproof casserole and fry the onions until soft. Stir in the barley and cook for 1–2 minutes to coat it with butter. Bring the stock to the boil and pour it over the barley. Season, cover the casserole and transfer it to the oven for about 45–50 minutes until the barley is almost cooked and most of the stock has been absorbed. If the liquid is absorbed before the barley is tender, add a little more stock or water. After 30 minutes, stir in the chestnuts.
Cook the sprouts in boiling salted water until almost tender, about 4–5 minutes, and drain them. Toss them in the remaining butter and stir them into the barley. Return the casserole to the oven, adding a little more stock or water should it be necessary, and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the barley turns creamy while still retaining some chewiness.
© 2005 Jill Norman. All rights reserved.