Barley and clam sauce create a rich flavor

The Associated PressOctober 23, 2013 

Spaghetti with clams — or spaghetti alle vongole to the Italians — is one of my favorite dishes: simple, flavorful and satisfying.

It’s hard to lose with clams, which generate a wonderful sauce as they are cooked. All you have to do is steam them with a little liquid. When the shells part, the clam liquor streams out, absolutely succulent and ready to glorify any dish.

In this case, I sought an alternative to white-flour spaghetti — something equally satisfying but more nutritious. My first thought was whole-wheat pasta. My second was barley, which is even more healthful. A terrific source of fiber, barley is a well-known substitute for rice. I was pretty sure it would be a fine stand-in for spaghetti, too, not least because its nutty flavor offers a pleasing contrast to the blandness of spaghetti.

The only trouble with barley (and it’s true of many of my favorite whole grains, including wheat berries and brown rice) is that it can take more than 40 minutes to cook. Who has that kind of time on a weeknight?

Instead, I cook the barley the way I cook pasta — in an abundance of boiling, lightly salted water. This is much less stressful than measuring, and quicker, too. Also, I cook much more than I need for one meal, then pack up the extra for future meals, wrap it well and freeze it. The next time I want barley as the base for a dish, it’s really fast to make.

The fresh fennel and cherry tomatoes here take this recipe in a Mediterranean direction. If you can’t find or don’t like fresh fennel (with its slightly licorice aroma), you can leave it out or replace it with some celery or leeks. Cherry tomatoes are my go-to fresh tomatoes when the summer tomato season has passed and the only full-sized tomatoes on the shelf are cardboard-like impostors unworthy of the name.

Then again, if you don’t like the cherry tomatoes at your supermarket, use canned tomatoes instead.

Finally, I have added one of my favorite little garnishes to finish off this dish: sauteed breadcrumbs. Sounds mundane, but they are anything but. After you make this recipe the first time, you might find yourself wildly topping every dish with sauteed breadcrumbs.

BARLEY WITH CLAM SAUCE

Start to finish: 35 minutes

Servings: 4

3 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs, preferably Italian-style

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 cup finely chopped yellow onion

11/2 cups medium chopped fresh fennel

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cup dry white wine

11/2 cups cherry tomatoes

3 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed well

3 cups cooked pearl barley

cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the breadcrumbs and 1 teaspoon of the oil. Cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion and fennel, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add the wine, tomatoes and clams, cover tightly and increase heat to high. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, checking now and again, and transferring the clams as they open to a bowl. Discard any clams that don’t open.

Add the barley to the clam liquid left in the saucepan, and heat over medium, stirring, for 3 minutes. Return the clams to the pan, and cook, stirring, until they are heated through. Ladle the mixture into 4 pasta or soup bowls, and top each portion with a quarter of the sauteed breadcrumbs and parsley.

Nutrition information per serving: 400 calories; 90 calories from fat (23 percent of total calories); 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 45 mg cholesterol; 50 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 22 g protein; 240 mg sodium.

HEALTHY recipe from C3

BARLEY WITH CLAM SAUCE 3 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs, preferably Italian-style

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 cup finely chopped yellow onion

11/2 cups medium chopped fresh fennel

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cup dry white wine

11/2 cups cherry tomatoes

3 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed well

3 cups cooked pearl barley

cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the breadcrumbs and 1 teaspoon of the oil. Cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion and fennel, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add the wine, tomatoes and clams, cover tightly and increase heat to high. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, checking now and again, and transferring the clams as they open to a bowl. Discard any clams that don’t open.

Add the barley to the clam liquid left in the saucepan, and heat over medium, stirring, for 3 minutes. Return the clams to the pan, and cook, stirring, until they are heated through. Ladle the mixture into 4 pasta or soup bowls, and top each portion with a quarter of the sauteed breadcrumbs and parsley.

Nutrition information per serving: 400 calories; 90 calories from fat (23 percent of total calories); 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 45 mg cholesterol; 50 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 22 g protein; 240 mg sodium.

Start to finish: 35 minutes | Servings: 4

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