Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash, Hazelnuts and Goat’s Cheese

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash, Hazelnuts and Goat's Cheese

I recently wrote about seasonal food and the urge for all things rich and hearty at this time of year. Well I seem to have taken this to heart a little too enthusiastically of late having stocked up on my fair share of slow roast pork, beef stews and lamb shanks.

So as my waistline goes in search of the limits of my last belt notch and Christmas, that famous period of ‘fasting’, just around the corner I thought I’d make something else; something healthier. There is nothing elaborate about this dish, the ingredients are cheap and easily obtained and so I urge you to give it a try. My only recommendation is that if you think you haven’t made enough, you have – this is pretty filling.

The secret of this is the balance of flavour with its sweet butternut squash and onions, salty/lemony goat’s cheese, roasted hazelnuts, and earthy thyme. I got some good quality goat’s cheese for this and it’s worth it, avoid the cheaper supermarket feta style cheese if you can.

I used a chicken stock for this, as I had some knocking about in the fridge, but you could easily use vegetable stock of course. I may try this again one day with some game bird though, I reckon it’d work beautifully.

Butternut squash barley risotto ingredients

 Serves two/three:

  • Half a butternut squash, cut into small cubes
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • Knob of butter
  • A little olive oil
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only
  • 100g pearl barley
  • 500ml stock, chicken or vegetable
  • About 60g (2oz) good quality goats cheese
  • Small squeeze of lemon to taste, or if needed
  • A generous handful of skinned hazelnuts
  • Salt
  • Chopped parsley or a little mint leaf to finish

Heat the stock until almost boiling.

Heat the butter/some oil in a pan and cook the garlic until golden coloured. Stir in the barley and coat well.

Add a good ladle of the stock and stir well. Once nearly gone, add the rest of the stock – don’t worry this isn’t like a regular risotto, your really only looking to cook the grains. Place a lid on and allow to cook until softened but with a little bite – about 45 minutes.

Whilst cooking, soften the onion in a little more oil in a pan with a pinch of salt. Turn off the heat and add the thyme to gently heat.

Red onion & thyme

For the last 10 minute or so of cooking the barley, add the onion/thyme and butternut squash cubes so as they’re just done. Remove the butternut squash  and set aside if they are cooked but the barley isn’t – they need a little bite. Taste and carefully correct with a little lemon juice if needed, don’t go overboard.

Wipe the pan used for the onion clean and dry roast the hazelnuts until well coloured.

Place the barley risotto in a bowl and crumble over the goats cheese and hazelnuts.

Finish with some chopped parsley or mint, then completely blow away your good intentions by having a large glass of Chardonnay with it. Cheers!

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash, Hazelnuts and Goat's Cheese


Slow Cooked Venison and Roast Butternut Squash


Well the sun was out, the temperatures were bearable and it’s the half term school holidays next week meaning one thing – everybody was out and about. We headed up to Gibside on the fringes of Gateshead for a walk around the ruined Gibside Hall. It’s eerie and spectacular in equal measure, being now little more than an overgrown shell of a once grand house. The chapel and ‘column of liberty’ have fared a little better and still stand a mile apart and in direct view of one another. Hopefully this lends a scale to the size of the estate. We headed up around the far reaches of the estate for the better views and steeper climbs and before we knew it a couple of hours had passed.


Gibside Chapel


Ruins of Gibside Hall

Column of Liberty

Column of Liberty

Front of Gibside Hall

Front of Gibside Hall

And so, a moderately lengthy winter walk requires a sturdy dinner. I’ll admit, I’ve put this together based on a couple of dishes I’ve eaten at The Broad Chare, a favourite of mine, mainly for its rustic British food and locally sourced produce. They were actually starters of braised venison with Elsdon cheese on toast and blood pudding with roasted squash and I kind of pulled the two together. Not having Elsdon (a firm goats cheese), I substituted some Wensleydale which has a similar sharp flavour. The venison was diced shoulder, slowly simmered for two hours in wine and beef stock until massively rich. The sweet butternut squash and sharp cheese were perfect companions!

For someting a little different, I tried an ingredient given to me by a friend in a Christmas hamper – some chocolate extract. Chocolate is seemingly unlikely friend of venison and this did lend a nice flavour to the dish overall, without dominating it. I’ll experiment further though….


Serves 2.

  • 500g diced venison suitable for slow cooking.
  • 2 large glasses of red wine, I used Rioja.
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 garlic clove, 1 carrot, 1 onion and 1 stick of celery finely diced.
  • 1 litre (2 pints) rich beef stock
  • 1 good splash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves and a large sprig of thyme, leaves only.
  • 70g smoked bacon lardons
  • 1 butternut squash, halved, seeded and cut into chunks
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Wensleydale cheese to serve
  • Optional – chocolate extract to taste.

In a heavy casserole dish, heat some oil and fry off the venison and lardons (in batches) until well browned.

Stir in the vegetables and soften them. Return the meat and stir though the flour, adding a little water to make it ‘stick’. Pour in the wine and stock and add the bay leaves. Stir thoroughly.

Put the lid on the pot and simmer on the lowest possible heat for about two hours.

After an hour, place the prepared butternut squash in a tray, season with salt and drizzle with oil. Roast in a moderate oven for about an 45 minutes to 1 hour until very tender.

For the last half and hour of the vension, remove the lid to reduce and concentrate the liquid and for the last 5 minutes, add the thyme leaves. Add the chocolate extract to taste if using at the end – it’s worth a try.

Serve the dish up with shavings of Wensleydale cheese and a large glass of Rioja. Perfect.

Venison and Butternut Squash