Recipe for pearl barley broth by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

September 5, 2012
Author: Guest

To celebrate Eden’s Harvest Festival this September, we’re bringing you a selection of recipes, ideas and creations to celebrate this special season. Today Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage gives us a delicious hearty broth recipe.

This is a substantial soup – serve it with a salad and some bread and it’s a meal in itself. As the barley simmers with the vegetables, it thickens the broth and gives it a creamy texture. You can certainly use pearled spelt in place of pearl barley.


Serves 4–6

  • 15g butter
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only, chopped
  • 1 small celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 small parsnip, finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • A few gratings of nutmeg
  • A good pinch of cayenne pepper
  • A pinch of ground mace
  • 100g pearl barley (or pearled spelt), rinsed
  • 1.5 litres vegetable stock
  • A small handful of parsley, finely chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the croûtons (optional)

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • About 200g slightly stale white bread


Heat the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat and gently sweat the onions with the bay leaf and thyme for about 15 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the celery, carrot and parsnip and sauté for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the coriander, nutmeg, cayenne and mace. Add the barley or spelt, pour in the stock and add some salt and pepper. Simmer gently for 25–30 minutes, or until the grain is very soft. Remove the bay leaf.

You can serve the broth like this or, to make it a little thicker, scoop out a couple of ladlefuls and purée them in a blender or food processor, or with a stick blender, until smooth, then return the puréed soup to the pan and warm through. Stir in the parsley and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Keep over a very low heat if you are making croûtons.

For the croûtons, cut the bread into 2cm cubes. Heat the olive oil over a medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the bread and sizzle gently until golden, turning occasionally, then drain on kitchen paper. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and scatter the hot croûtons on top to serve.

Alternative finishes

  • Instead of serving the soup topped with croûtons, sauté some sliced mushrooms in a little butter or olive oil until they give up some of their moisture and start to take on some colour. Scatter the fried mushrooms over the soup just before serving.
  • The soup is also very good simply served with a trickle of cream and chopped parsley scattered over the top.

Hugh's veg recipe book

River Cottage Veg Every Day! is published by Bloomsbury, and please see the River Cottage website for more about Hugh, recipes and River Cottage courses.

Portrait of Hugh above, copyright © River Cottage.

Harvest Festival 8-16 September 2012; Food, drink, dance and merriment; Click for the full programme

Food, Harvest, How to, Recipe

2 responses to Recipe for pearl barley broth by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

  1. Diane Lowton says:

    In your recipe for Rioja style chicken it says cup of white vine. Is this white vinegar cos I can't find white vine? Thanks

  2. Eden Project says:

    Hi Diane. May we suggest you contact Hugh's River Cottage with your question? Their website is here:

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