By Jessica RoyThey say the Polar Vortex is coming back. I guess in my line of work, an option is to stay in the kitchen and avoid going outside completely. Though that does sound enticing, it's not quite realistic, so I created a hearty winter supper to keep you warm and cozy instead.

Whole grains are all the rage these days and they've rightfully earned their place in the spotlight after waiting in the wings for 10,000 years. These beautiful babies are packed with nutrients, can help lower cholesterol and boost the immune system, and are filling in a good way.

A grain is whole when it contains three essential parts: the Bran -- outer protective skin containing lots of antioxidants, Germ -- vitamin and protein packed little embryo able to sprout a new plant, and Endosperm -- energy source for the germ and potential young plant, containing starchy carbs, protein and some vitamins and minerals to boot. In refined grains, a la white rice, the bran and germ have been removed leaving just the endosperm for consumption.

In this recipe, I'm using barley, which happens to be my favorite of all the cereal grains. Farro, spelt, wheat berries, whole oats, quinoa (technically a seed), brown or black rice etc. can all be used in this recipe, though some may require a bit more prep time.


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A couple of chef's tips: To reduce cooking time, use pearled barley. While it has been refined to remove the bran, it is still a wholesome amd nutritious grain. If you're looking to skip the meat, swap for browned mushrooms or sautéed veggies instead. For a velvety finish, pour a few tablespoons warm stock over each bowl of barley before serving.

Winter barley bowl with spicy sausage, quick-braised kale

Serves 4

1 cup whole grain barley

1 onion, diced (divide in half)

3 cups chicken stock

1 cup additional chicken stock, warmed for serving

1 lb. spicy Italian sausage

4-6 cups baby kale, or chopped kale with center rib removed

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup dry white wine

salt and pepper

Asiago or Parmesan cheese, as desired

Prepare the barley: add half of the diced onion, 1 cup dry barley and 2 cups stock into a saucepan, and season with 1 tsp. kosher salt and pepper as desired. Give a good stir, turn on the heat and bring to a full boil, then reduce to a simmer. Allow the barley to cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes, or until tender. If the stock is absorbing quickly before the barley is tender and cooked through, stir in 1/2 cup more stock at a time until tender.

Meanwhile, brown the sausage: If using sausages with casings, slit the sausages down the side, remove and discard the casing. Place a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium heat, and allow the pan to get hot. Add the ground sausage in a single layer over the bottom of the hot pan. Allow to cook and brown throughout for about 6 to 8 minutes, while breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon. Remove the browned sausage from the pan using tongs or a slotted spoon, leaving any rendered fat in the pan.

Next, braise the kale: Over medium heat, stir the remaining half of the diced onion into the rendered fat and juices of the same pan used to cook the sausage. When onion is tender and fragrant, stir in 2 cloves minced garlic and white wine and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the kale, and toss to coat with all the pan juices, wine, onion and garlic. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid or foil, and continue to cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.

Toss the barley in a large bowl along with the browned sausage. To serve, scoop heaping portions of barley and sausage into serving bowls, and pour a few tablespoons of warm stock over each. Top with braised kale, and fresh Asiago or Parmesan cheese as desired.

Jessica Roy is a specialty chef and caterer, food writer and chef instructor, and owner of Shiso Kitchen in Somerville, where she teaches classes. Follow her at http://blogs.lowellsun. com/yourpersonalchef.