Canola oil spray
3/4 cup chopped onions
1 fennel bulb, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 Tbsp. canola oil
1-3 cloves garlic (or to taste), finely chopped
3/4 cup thin slices of red, orange, or yellow bell pepper (about 1 small pepper)
1 cup pearl barley
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried marjoram
4-5 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup spinach leaves, torn into pieces - use more
grated Parmesan cheese -Use fresh - you'll get the same cheesy taste and use less
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil
Generously coat a large heavy pot with oil spray and place it over medium-high heat. Add the onions and the fennel and sauté until they are tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the oil and heat until it is hot. Add the garlic and bell peppers and sauté lightly for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the barley, thyme, marjoram, broth and salt and pepper to taste. Bring it to a boil and immediately reduce the heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is almost absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 40 to 50 minutes or until the barley is tender.
When the barley is cooked, remove it from the heat. Add the spinach, cheese and basil. Stir to blend and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.