Butternut Squash & Barley Bisque

I got the idea for this recipe from one in a cooking magazine which I tore out and added to my growing collection of paper scraps. I am an inveterate collector of recipes – from magazines, newspapers, print outs from web sites, supermarket flyers, and, of course, notes from family and friends.

I used to heap these loose paper scraps in shoe boxes, but a few years ago, after a futile hunt for a particular recipe, I started pasting them into notebooks, organized by theme. It’s much easier now to find a recipe, but their specific origins have been lost. I can usually tell the generic context by the type of paper – glossy (magazine), yellowing newsprint (obviously newspaper), laser printed (off the internet). There are also scraps that are are handwritten or typewritten – by that now defunct machine, the typewriter – on cards, notepads, scrap paper, and other miscellaneous ephemera (family and friends).

The recipe that influenced mine is on glossy magazine paper pasted into my notebook on soups. I tend to modify recipes to suit my family’s tastes and the availability of ingredients – a bit more here, less there, omit this, add that, insert a substitution. The original recipe on that glossy magazine paper called for Pickapeppa Sauce, a particular Jamaican condiment which can be difficult to source here in Northern England, so I substitute any similar sauce (such as the Jamaican jerk sauce, Reggae Reggae).


Butternut Squash & Barley Bisque

Serves 6

  • 1 small butternut squash (approx. 2 lbs)
  • 14 oz. can of plum tomatoes
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 2 teaspoons Jamaican fruity hot sauce (Pickapeppa, Reggae Reggae or similar)
  • 3 dashes Tabasco (or more if you are feeling adventurous)
  • 8 cups of beef stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup pearled pearled barley

Peel, de-seed and chop the squash flesh into small pieces. Place the squash in a large stockpot with the tomatoes, crushed garlic clove, thyme, allspice, 1 Tablespoon of chives, the Jamaican sauce, Tabasco and beef stock. bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 40-50 minutes or until the squash is very soft.

Turn off heat. Purée with either a hand blender or in batches in a food processor. The soup should be smooth at this point. Return to heat, season with salt and pepper if needed.

Place the barley in a sieve and rinse under cold water. When the soup is bubbling, add the rinsed barley and cook gently (partly uncovered) for another 20 minutes until the barley is cooked and soup is thickened.

Ladle into warmed soup bowls and serve sprinkled with the remaining chopped chives.

I love barley in soups. The grain gives the soup a slightly nutty flavor and transforms it into a filling one-pot meal. Pair this with home made bread or rolls. This, like many tomato-based soups is lovely with rolls made with Parmesan or other sharp hard cheeses. The soup improves if you refrigerate it over night and heat up to serve the next day. Or it can be frozen for future use.

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