The last couple days have been beautiful around here. They’ve been the kind of days that are full of sunshine, but also full of winter’s brisk temperatures that keep my hands wrapped around my endless mug of tea. The cold had me thinking about casseroles and baked dishes and asking myself why I rarely ever make them.
I do love the idea of a casserole. I always picture a gathering of people around a table, each helping themselves to their corner of the hot dish. A casserole is the perfect way to feed a hungry crowd or to stash away any leftovers in the freezer for those days your pressed for cooking time. Plus they seem like the perfect way to rid your fridge of any leftovers you may have. I think the reason I rarely make them has more to do with the stereotypical style of casserole I grew up knowing. The kind that are possibly only good because of the gobs of cheese, layers of pasta, and starchy potatoes, which all lead to little room for my favorite thing… the veggies.
I could easily have taken these same ingredients and made my usual fare of whole grains, combined with sauteed leek and mushroom, tossed in a handful of almonds, rounded it out with a bit of Parmesan and topped it with a crumbled hard boiled egg or two, but I didn’t. I wanted to make something different from my regular routine and something that would keep me satisfied and warm at the same time.
Another magical thing I discovered about casseroles; how much I can get done in the 30 minutes or so it takes to bake! I’m not kidding. Once I popped it in the oven, I washed the sink-full of dishes (I don’t own a dishwasher), scrubbed the sink, and swept the floors. It had me feeling like I should make casseroles every night, just to keep the chores from piling up!
Really though this casserole is delicious, simple to make, and perfect for using up leftover grains. I used barley, but I imagine rice would make a great stand in as well. Have a beautiful weekend and stay warm!
Mushroom Leek & Barley Bake / serves 4-6
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 ounces mushrooms, chopped
1 leek, white and light green parts only, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups cooked pearl barley (about 1/2 cup dried cooked in 1 1/2 cups water)
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 cup Parmesan, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375F and grease a 1 3/4 qt. baking dish.
In a large frying pan heat the oil over medium heat. Add in the mushrooms and a pinch of salt, cooking for about 3 minutes or until just beginning to soften. Stir in the leeks, cook another 2 minutes, then add in the garlic. Continue cooking until everything is softened and the mushrooms are a nice brown color, about another 3 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Place the barley in a large bowl. Stir in the mushroom mixture, the almonds (reserving some for garnish), and half the Parmesan.
In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and salt. Fold the eggs into the barley mixture, then pour into your prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the last half of the Parmesan.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until set. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the left over almonds and serve.