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Barley, onion, tomato

A wonderfully hearty soup, this is also very straightforward. It relies on some good puréed tomatoes for the base flavour. We prepare our own, but you could use a good-quality ready-made passata instead. In this case, you might want to add some bay, thyme and a whole garlic clove to the simmering soup to boost the flavour. If you use a little less tomato purée, you’ll produce a risotto-style dish that will be delicious with some melting mozzarella stirred through, or some slivers of Parmesan on top.


If you’re making your own tomato purée, preheat the oven to

180°C/Gas 4. Lay the tomato halves, cut side up, in a single layer in a large, deep baking tray. Scatter over the garlic and thyme, tuck in the bay leaves, trickle over the oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about an hour, maybe a bit longer, until the tomatoes are completely soft and pulpy, and starting to crinkle and caramelise on top. Remove and leave to cool off for half an hour or so. Then tip them into a large sieve and rub through with a wooden spoon, or use a mouli. Discard the skin and pips. Your sauce is now ready to use. If you haven’t produced the full 750ml you need here, just increase the quantity of stock to compensate.

To make the soup, heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté for 8–10 minutes until soft. Stir in the pearl barley or spelt, then add the stock and 750ml tomato purée or passata. Bring to a simmer and cook very gently, uncovered, until the barley or spelt is tender. Barley should take 30–40 minutes; spelt will only need 20–25 minutes.

Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed, then ladle the soup into bowls and serve. A trickle of good extra virgin olive oil on top will not go amiss.

Serving suggestions

You can make a risotto version of this dish, replacing the barley with arborio or carnaroli rice.

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  • 2 tablespoons olive, rapeseed or sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 150g pearl barley or pearled spelt, rinsed
  • 750ml good stock of your choice
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the roasted tomato purée

  • 2kg ripe tomatoes, halved
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • 2–3 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons rapeseed or olive oil


  • 750ml passata

To finish (optional)

  • Extra virgin olive oil

This recipe is taken from...

Hugh’s Three Good Things