Chef Walter’s Flavors + Knowledge: Barley Minestrone

Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Master Chef Walter Potenza, GoLocalProv Food Expert

When the weather's cold, a big pot of soup simmering on the stove warms the heart as well as the hearth. Adding some whole grain barley to the pot will improve your health along with the flavor of whatever soup or stew you're cooking. In addition to its robust flavor, barley's claim to nutritional fame is based on its being a very good source of molybdenum, manganese, dietary fiber, and selenium, and a good source of copper, vitamin B1, chromium, phosphorus, magnesium, and niacin. Barley is a wonderfully versatile cereal grain with a rich nutlike flavor and an appealing chewy, pasta-like consistency. Its appearance resembles wheat berries, although it is slightly lighter in color. Sprouted barley is naturally high in maltose, a sugar that serves as the basis for both malt syrup sweeteners. When fermented, barley is used as an ingredient in beer and other alcoholic beverages. 

Serves 4

Ingredients

7 ounces pearl barley

1 bouillon cube (beef or chicken)

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

½ cup Italian parsley, finely chopped

1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped

1 tablespoon marjoram, finely chopped

1 ham bone, with some meat in it

2 potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges

1 carrot, peeled and sliced into thin disks

Salt and white pepper to taste

Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

 

Directions

Soak the barley for about 30 minutes. Put it in a pot with 8 cups of cold water with the bouillon cube; bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil, and add onion, ¼ cup of parsley, the rosemary, the marjoram. Saute until onion is golden. Add this mixture to the barley along with the ham bone, the potatoes and the carrots. Adjust the seasonings and the flavors with salt and pepper, and cook for about 30 minutes. Remove the bone, cut off any remaining meat, and add it to the soup. Serve immediately, garnished with remaining parsley and grated Parmigiano. 

History

Barley originated in Ethiopia and Southeast Asia, where it has been cultivated for more than 10,000 years. Barley was used by ancient civilizations as a food for humans and animals, as well as to make alcoholic beverages; the first known recipe for barley wine dates back to 2800 BC in Babylonia. In addition, since ancient times, barley water has been used for various medicinal purposes.

Barley played an important role in ancient Greek culture as a staple bread-making grain as well as an important food for athletes, who attributed much of their strength to their barley-containing training diets. Roman athletes continued this tradition of honoring barley for the strength that it gave them. Gladiators were known as hordearii, which means "eaters of barley." Barley was also honored in ancient China as a symbol of male virility since the heads of barley are heavy and contain numerous seeds.

Since wheat was very expensive and not widely available in the Middle Ages, many Europeans at that time made bread from a combination of barley and rye. In the 16th century, the Spanish introduced barley to South America, while the English and Dutch settlers of the 17th century brought it with them to the United States.

Today, the largest commercial producers of barley are Canada, the United States, the Russian Federation, Germany, France and Spain.

How to Select and Store

Barley is generally available in its pearled, hulled and flaked form. It is available prepackaged as well as in bulk containers. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the barley are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure its maximal freshness. Whether purchasing barley in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture. Store the barley in a tightly covered glass container in a cool, dry place. Barley can also be stored in the refrigerator during periods of warmer weather.

Master Chef Walter Potenza is the owner of Potenza Ristorante in Cranston, Chef Walters Cooking School and Chef Walters Fine Foods. His fields of expertise include Italian Regional Cooking, Historical Cooking from the Roman Empire to the Unification of Italy, Sephardic Jewish Italian Cooking, Terracotta Cooking, Diabetes and Celiac. Recipient of National and International accolades, awarded by the Italian Government as Ambassador of Italian Gastronomy in the World. Currently on ABC6 with Cooking Show “Eat Well."  Check out the Chef's website and blog. 

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