Affairs of the heart: a recipe for Butternut Squash and Barley Risotto

ee-olivesThe Mediterranean is hot, hot, hot. No I’m not referring to the weather but to the eating pattern. The Med Diet has been making headlines around the world all week.

No doubt you have heard about the major study published this week in the new England Journal of Medicine which showed that subjects at high risk for heart disease and stroke had an almost 30 per cent reduced risk of either having a heart attack or stroke  or dying than those not on the Med diet. The latter group was supposed to be on a low fat diet but because they had so much trouble adhering to the program, they ended up eating a more typical Western diet.

We’ve known for decades that the Mediterranean Diet was the gold standard of eating patterns for heart health and an assortments of other lifestyle-related ills but this study went where none has gone before. Other investigations have looked at an array of ailments or risk factors for heart disease but many have been observational studies, meaning that the researchers have just assessed what people are doing and related the actions to their health.

This research was a clinical study. The over 7700 subjects, all at high risk for heart disease and stroke, were  randomly divided into three groups: two on a Med Diet regime with one of the two consuming four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day, the second had nuts instead of the olive oil. The third group was supposed to be on a low-fat regime.

Because of how clear the results were, the investigation was halted due to ethical reasons. It simply was not right to ask for those in the control group to continue on their regimen when they could be reaping the benefits of the Med Diet.

© Sweetgoddess | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Sweetgoddess | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

In next week’s posts,  I will focus on various aspects of the Med Diet but for today, here’s a delicious and nutrient-packed Med-style recipe for you.

Risottos are traditionally made from a refined rice called Arborio  but  by opting for barley instead, you can reap more heart healthy perks. Barley is chock full of blood cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre and is delicious when prepared in this manner.  The butternut squash, besides providing  fibre on its own,   also contains beta carotene, a colourful pigment which acts as an antioxidant.   While this recipe is for two – for a romantic dinner – if you like, you can double it for a  tasty appetizer for a bigger crowd.

Butternut Squash and Barley Risotto

Serves 2

2 1/2 cups (625 mL) low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
2 tbsp (25 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (125 mL)   chopped onion
1 cup (250 mL) diced butternut squash  (1/2-inch/1.25-cm dice)
1/3 cup (75 mL)  pearl barley
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh sage
3 tbsp (45 mL)  freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp (25 mL) chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring  broth to boil in a small saucepan. Cover and reduce heat to low.

Heat oil in a heavy, medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add  squash and  sauté for another 3  minutes. Add barley and stir for  2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup/ 125 mL broth and chopped sage; simmer, stirring often, until broth is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Add remaining broth 1/3 cup  (75 mL) at a time, allowing  for broth to be absorbed and stirring frequently. Cook until barley is tender but still firm to bite,  about 35 to 40  minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Nutritional information per serving
•    Calories:   364
•    Protein: 12 grams
•    Fat:   18  grams
•    Saturated Fat:  4   grams
•    Carbohydrate:  36 grams
•    Dietary Fibre:  8  grams
•    Sodium:    280  milligrams

Next week some of the topics I will be discussing include Med Diet basics and a great resource, Oldways 4-Week Mediterranean Diet Menu Plan, an olive oil tasting and extra virgin olive oil versus coconut oil for cooking.


Are you a fan of the Mediterranean Diet? What are your favourite dishes  or flavours of the region? Please share in the comments section below.

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Categories: Recipes, Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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