Roasted Vegetable Barley Soup

There’s a small, but pretty good, farmer’s market on Saturdays in a scruffy park near my apartment, and now that the weather’s turned so has the produce. Last weekend I made the mistake of buying some tomatoes, thinking if they were fresh from the farm they might still be pretty good. No. Tart and mealy, they were. This weekend I didn’t fall for the tomatoes’ tease. The early fall vegetables were in, in abundance. There were parsnips and white turnips and shallots and brussels sprouts and eggplant and some still-small zucchini. As I wandered around the market, pulling my jacket tighter against the chill in the air, I found myself dreaming of soup. Warm, filling, healthy soup.

When I got my goodies home I realized I wouldn’t have time to make the soup that day, so instead I roasted the brussels sprouts and had a huge bowl of em for dinner (my absolute favorite way to do it, courtesy of my idol Ina Garten: trim the sprouts [cut in half if they’re big], toss with olive oil & plenty of kosher salt, and spread on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Roast at 425 for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes, until they get all brown and caramelized, and the outer leaves start to crisp up). Then yesterday I had more time than I needed to just whip up some soup, so I decided to boost the flavor by roasting most of the vegetables first. It turned out great, exactly the kind of meal-in-a-bowl I was dreaming of. This recipe will work with virtually any mix of vegetables, but I think using root vegetables adds a nice level of sweetness to everything.

Roasted Vegetable Barley Soup

2 carrots, peeled & cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 stalks celery, diced
1 small white turnip, peeled & diced
1 medium parsnip, peeled & diced
1 small eggplant, skin left on, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
6 or 8 brussels sprouts, halved lenthwise then roughly sliced (I used leftovers, threw em in at the end)
4 cloves garlic, peeled & smashed
4 sprigs fresh thyme
a few glugs olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper
another glug or two of olive oil
5 shallots, roughly chopped
1 small red pepper, diced
2 more cloves garlic, minced
1 t. dried thyme
2 bay leaves
pinch cumin
1/2 cup barley
10 cups liquid (I used mostly canned chicken broth & some water, but this would work with vegetable broth too)
3-inch piece parmesan rind
5 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced & reconsitituted in 1/2 cup boiling water (you could also use dried mushrooms this way, just be careful not to let any of the sediment fall into your pot)
1 T. pesto (I used homemade from my freezer, but I’m sure packaged would work equally well)
Salt & pepper to taste
toasted pine nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 425. Prepare two baking sheets with foil and non-stick spray. Put the first nine ingredients (carrots through fresh thyme) in a large bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Divide mixture between the two cookie sheets, spreading in a single layer. Roast for 35-40 minutes, taking out the trays halfway through to toss everything and rotate tray placement.

After turning the trays, heat some olive oil in a large stockpot. Add chopped shallots and diced red pepper, and let them sweat for 2-3 minutes. Add the minced garlic, dried thyme, bay leaves, and cumin, and when the kitchen begins to smell wonderfully garlicky, add the barley. By now the vegetables should be nicely browned–remove from the oven and toss the thyme stems. Stir the pot for another minute or two, then add the roasted vegetables, broth/water, parmesan rind, and sun-dried tomatoes with soaking liquid. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 35-40 minutes, or until barley is al dente. Add pesto, and stir until it’s blended in. Remove from heat and add salt & pepper to taste. Before serving, fish out and toss bay leaves and parmesan rind. Top each bowl with toasted pine nuts, if you like.