Pearl Barley Risotto with Balsamic Roasted Squash

Yesterday started out so lovely. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and for October the temperature was uncommonly high. By the time we organised ourselves and got there, however, the clouds had started to move in and the winds had picked up. Typical! We were out location scouting for a film we are in the midst of making and we really are spoilt for choice here in Cornwall - I feel like every corner I turn I'm discovering a hidden cove that is truly something you'd find in some movie of epic proportions. So even though the weather may not have been on our side, it remained a triumphant success (despite being almost blown off the edge of a cliff!). Yesterday was a success for a wholly different reason too. I'd previously submitted photos to TasteSpotting and Foodgawker with the only expectation being one of rejection. You can imagine my delight then when I clicked on my blog stats to discover most of the traffic was coming from these very places. Of the three photos I submitted one was accepted and to be honest I totally get why the other two didn't make the grade - they were unfortunately not helped by the fact you have to crop your photos and it messed with the composition, which is fair do's. I'll know in future which shots will work on these sites and which won't.

Looking through the beautiful food photos on both of these sites makes me feel rather please with myself. The blogs that have photos regularly accepted are what I consider to be the creme de la creme of food blogs and are way more established than my little vegan offering. That is why I'm in a very good mood today. It's kind of silly that I need something like this to validate what I'm doing but I can't say it doesn't help. We all need a bit of reassurance that isn't coming from your Husband or your Mother, don't we?

By the time we got back to the flat we were cold and hungry and I, for one, was craving something wholesome and autumnal. My baby squash had been prettily sitting on my counter for over a week now - I scrapped my plans to use it in a noodle salad - and I knew it was time to use him. I don't why it's a him, it just is. Nothing screams autumn better than pearl barley. It's so earthy and comforting and although it is great in soups I've been wanting to try it as a risotto substitute for ages. Off I went then and made that barley risotto and boy was it good; we snuggled up with a bowl each and it felt like autumn had really started.

With that soothing bowl of barley we wished the long summer goodbye and said hello to falling leaves, halloween and all the delicious offering's this season brings with it.

pearl barley with balsamic roasted squash

1 little squash/mini pumpkin

2 leeks

1 courgette

6 closed cup mushrooms

1 cup pearl barley

1 vegetable stock cube

1 tsp dried oregano

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp soy butter

salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius/390 fahrenheit.

Cut the squash into pieces, using the shape of the vegetable to divide it. Transfer to an ovenproof dish. Splash over a little evoo, seasoning, oregano and balsamic vinegar. Ensure it is all thoroughly coated. Bake in the oven for 40mins. Check on it periodically and move it around so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the dish.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the vegetable stock cube and reduce heat or just turn it off completely.

Heat the olive oil soy butter in a frying pan/skillet. Add the chopped leeks, season and allow to soften slowly ensuring they don't colour.

Slice the courgette and add to pan. Cook for a further 5 mins or so until it is beginning to soften. You want the courgettes to retain their shape so try not overcook them at this stage.

Pour in the pearl barley allowing it to soak up some of the excess oil before ladelling in the stock several cups at a time. Cook it fairly rapidly until the liquid is completely soaked up and then cover again with more stock. Repeat in this fashion until it is almost cooked. Remember to taste and season as necessary. Before adding the last batch of stock tumble in the chopped mushrooms, season and stir through the risotto. Cover with stock.

Once the liquid has been soaked up and the pearl barley is cooked but still has some bite serve in warmed bowls and top with the squash. I also splashed over a little more balsamic to finish the dish off.