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Although fall days can be quite warm, nights are frequently cool and our thoughts are beginning to turn away from summer’s harvest and toward the foods and cooking techniques of fall. There are still plenty of tomatoes to enjoy and chiles and certain melons, especially watermelon, are at their peak. Winter squash, sturdy greens and grains are welcome right now, too, especially at dinner.

Barley is one of my favorite grains, one I have enjoyed since I was a little girl and my mother made turkey barley soup on Thanksgiving and Christmas, her best dish. It is an ancient grain, once covered much of Europe and was a staple in the human diet. Today, it is widely used to feed animals and to make beer, ale and distilled spirits, though it is common enough that you can usually find at least one kind in most supermarkets.

The best, of course, is locally grown, and you can find it at farmers markets and stores that carry local products. If you see red barley, give it a try — deeply colored foods offer nutrients, including trace minerals, that paler foods do not have. It is also delicious.

Barley is closely related to wheat and rye and, as such, contains gluten. You have been warned.

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This soup should be fairly thick, but not so thick as a stew. If necessary, thin it with a bit of water. The soup keeps well in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days and is easy to reheat. To save the gremolata, wrap it tightly so that it is not exposed to air or it will dry out quite quickly. A pressure cooker is required for this recipe.

Fall Barley & Beef Soup with Gremolata

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound beef shank, preferably grass-fed

— Kosher salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 yellow onion, cut into small dice

1 small carrot, peeled and cut into small dice

— Black pepper in a mill

⅔ cup pearled barley, soaked for several hours or overnight and drained

3 cups beef stock or water

2 bay leaves

3 thin slices of ginger

1 cup peeled and diced sweet potato

¾ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

3-4 garlic cloves, minced

— Grated zest of one lemon

Set a heavy sauté pan over night heat.

While the pan heats, season the beef all over with salt. When the pan is hot, add the beef and cook for about 2 minutes, or until it is easy to turn it over; turn and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to a pressure cooker.

Pour the olive oil into the sauté pan, reduce the heat to medium, add the onion and carrot and sauté until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Do not let them brown. Season with salt and several turns of black pepper.

Add the barley, beef stock or water and 1 more cup of water, along with the bay leaves and ginger. Bring the liquid to a boil, lock the lid in place and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions at the first level of heat for 20 minutes.

Use the slow-release method to reduce pressure, open the lid and add the sweet potato. Stir briefly and if the mixture seems a bit dry, add another cup of water. With the heat on medium low, lock the lid in place and cook 7 minutes more. Again, use the slow-release method to relieve pressure.

Open the lid and let cool another 10 to 15 minutes. Taste, correct for salt and pepper and use tongs to remove and discard the bay and ginger. Transfer the beef shank to a clean work surface, remove the bone, chop the meat and return it to the pot.

While the soup cools, make the gremolata. To do so, put the parsley, garlic and lemon zest into a small bowl, season generously with salt and toss gently.

Ladle into soup bowls or plates, top with a generous portion of gremolata and enjoy right away.

Variation

Omit the sweet potato. Instead, add 2 cups (about ½ bunch) lacinato kale, cut into ½-inch wide crosswise strips.

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Grits set up nicely, as polenta does, and you don’t need to add eggs or any other binding agent to make these cakes.

Savory Barley Cakes with Poached Eggs

Serves 3 to 4

1 cup barley grits

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed

— Black pepper in a mill

2 tablespoons butter

4 ounces grated dry Jack, Estero Gold or similar cheese

— Apple cider vinegar

— Clarified butter, for frying

4 eggs

— Hot sauce or salsa of choice

Pour 4 cups of water into a medium saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat and stir in the barley grits and the 2 teaspoons of salt. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is very thick and the grits are fully tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Season very generously with black pepper, add the butter and cheese and stir until they are melted. Carefully taste, adjust for salt and pepper.

Rinse a sheet pan or other shallow container with water, set on a flat surface and pour in the grits. Agitate the pan gently to distribute the grits evenly. Gently place a sheet or parchment paper or wax paper over the grits and refrigerate for at least 2 hours until the grits have set up firmly.

To finish, fill a fairly wide and somewhat deep pan two-thirds full with water, add 2 teaspoons of vinegar and set over medium heat.

Remove the grits from the refrigerator.

Put about 2 tablespoons of clarified butter into a frying pan set over medium use. Use a large spoon to divide the grits into rounds about the size of golf balls. Add a few to the hot butter, leaving plenty of room between them. Use a spatula to gently press the balls to form cakes about ½-inch thick. Fry for 4 to 5 minutes, turn and fry until golden brown, another 4 minutes or so. Both sides should have a crisp golden crust.

Have four plates at the ready; add 3 cakes to each plate and continue until all the cakes have been make.

Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil or set in a 200 degree oven to keep warm.

Working quickly, break each egg into a bowl and carefully slip it into the simmering water. Cook for 2 minutes (2 ½ for jumbo eggs) and then use a slotted spoon to lift out each egg. Shake off excess water and set on top of the cakes. Season with salt and pepper and enjoy right away, with hot sauce alongside.

Variations

Omit the poached eggs. Top the cakes with sautéed mushrooms, wilted greens or steamed broccoli instead.

Instead of hot sauce, top the eggs and barley cakes with Italian-style salsa verde.

Omit the eggs and top with beef stew, braised short ribs, pulled pork or lamb stew.

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