Sunday, August 7, 2011

Barley and Corn Casserole

I love perfect sweet corn eaten right off the cob, skipping the middle-man (silverware) and using only my teeth, as much as the next person. But there are so many tasty dishes that call for individual corn kernels that are even better when made with fresh corn. So, when the corn comes in I try to claim a few ears to use in a slightly more sophisticated and less primal application.

I’ve been waiting for the return of sweet corn season to use my golden nuggets in a simple but delicious casserole with barley and provolone cheese that I had tried and enjoyed sometime last year. I know that frozen corn would be good in this recipe, making it virtually season-less, but fresh corn can’t really be beat. With that in mind, I increased the corn to barley ratio and made it even tastier. I could also take advantage of locally-grown peppers and my own patio-grown herbs.

The hardest part of this entire dish is actually cutting the corn from the cobs, which has never been my favorite kitchen task. I find that I can control the corny chaos a bit more if I place the base of the corn cob on top of a small, upturned bowl that I put in the bottom of a large bowl (the largest bowl I have). This allows me to cut to the bottom of the ear and also keeps corn from flying all over the kitchen. (I think I got this idea from watching Rachel Ray. I didn’t come up with it on my own, anyway.)

Once the corn is cut from the cob, it’s sautéed with some onion and bell peppers, then mixed with cooked pearled barley and cubes of provolone cheese before it is baked in the oven. I happened to have green peppers on hand, but they were slightly bitter in the end product. I think that sweeter red, orange or yellow bell peppers would make a more flavorful (and more colorful) dish. I usually have a zip-top bag or two full of cooked grains in the freezer, and that’s what I used here. You could, of course, cook barley just for this dish, but I highly recommend getting ahead and cooking up a bunch of barley at one time, so it’s awaiting your pleasure.

I love the combination of textures from the corn and barley. The barley is chewy and nutty-tasting while the corn is sweet and juicy and pops just a bit between the teeth. The provolone melts into salty, cheesy pockets throughout the casserole. Some of it even got all toasty on the bottom and in the corners. You could use a different kind of cheese if you like. In fact, while you’re at it, you could change up the flavors of this simple hot dish pretty easily. For example, Montery Jack cheese, chile peppers, and some cumin and coriander or oregano could turn it into a little something with a Southwest flair. Whatever direction you decide to take this easy concoction, it’s well worth fighting all the corn-on-the-cob purists in your household for a couple of ears to strip.

Barley and Corn Casserole with Provolone
Adapted from a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

You could use frozen corn in this recipe, and it could probably be easily doubled.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup fresh corn kernels (from about 2 ears)
½ cup finely chopped bell pepper (green is okay, but other colors are sweeter)
1 cup cooked pearl barley
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
½ cup provolone cheese, cut into ¼ -inch cubes

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat a small baking dish (I used a 1-quart dish) with cooking spray or brush it lightly with oil.

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, corn and bell pepper. Cook about 8-10 minutes or until the vegetables are just beginning to brown. Stir in the barley, parsley and thyme. Cook about 1 minute more.

3. Remove from the heat and let stand a few minutes to cool slightly. Stir in the provolone cubes.

4. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Cover and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake 5 minutes more.

Makes 2-4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Quinoa and Spinach Casserole, Three Grain Salad with White Beans and Artichokes, Corn and Green Onion Tart with Bacon

One year ago: Mediterranean Vegetable and White Bean Salad

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