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You'll barley notice a difference in this Cacio e pepe dish

You'll barley notice a difference in this Cacio e pepe dish

Cacio e pepe is a traditional Roman meal. It’s warm and cheesy and oh-so-comforting. So why on earth would I mess with perfection? Call me crazy, but I’m always looking for new and different ways to get that comfort-food feeling out of what I already have in my cupboard.

So the other day I was going through the bulk foods I have in the cupboard and saw that I had a container of pearly barley I’d purchased in a fit of optimism. And since I’m a huge fan of pasta, and at the same time am trying to eat a bit less of it in favor of more healthy alternatives, I figured hey, why not substitute pearl barley for the next time I wanted to have pasta? So that day Barley Cacio e Pepe was born!

Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4+ (Makes 3 to 3 1/2 cups)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pearl barley

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter

  • 2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

  • salt to taste (I like about 1 tsp since the parm is already salty)

  • 1 and 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan (I use this Violife version: https://violifefoods.com/us/product/just-like-parmesan-wedge/ and I use pretty much the entire wedge)

Directions

Start with the barley: Bring salt, barley and about 2 and 1/2 to 3 cups water (or no salt-broth if you’re feeling fancy) to a boil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. You can always add more water or broth if the barley is not cooked enough but the liquid has all been absorbed.

Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the barley is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. You want to keep some of the liquid in the pot because the starches from the barley will mix with the butter and cheese to make the whole dish creamy and wonderful. The barley should have the same feeling when you bite into it as al dente pasta does, or even a bit more tender. But not mushy. Never mushy!

This will take about 40 to 50 minutes and I recommend stirring it occasionally to keep anything from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once the barley is ready, remove it from the heat, keep covered, and let stand for 5 minutes.

When the barley is finished cooking start on the cacio e pepe part of the dish. In a sauté pan add the butter, and pepper, bring to a simmer, and stir occasionally while the flavors combine—about 2 minutes. Next add the grated Parmesan to the pan and continue to stir. The Violife parm won’t melt in the same way that dairy cheese will but it does get soft and the flavor from it will combine with the butter and pepper. Allow the cheese and butter combination to simmer for another 2 minutes while stirring.

Now all you need to do is add the butter and cheese mixture to the pot with the barley and stir everything to combine. I like to serve this will some sliced green onion for color and an added small bit of crunch and brightness.

Barley cacio e pepe
Cauliflower is the souper star here

Cauliflower is the souper star here