I make this soup whenever I start to actually feel like that 3rd jelly roll I ate last night. It's the perfect antidote to any sort of culinary overindulgence. I've already made it twice since New Years. It's warm liquid comfort...savory and zesty from the sausage, mildly sweet thanks to the butternut squash, and oh so satisfyingly chewy because of the pearl barley. It's colors look great on the plate too. The eye wants its part too, after all. —Serena Cosmo | Rustic Plate
In a large soup pot, cook the chopped garlic and olive oil on medium-low heat for one minute, or until the garlic just starts to become fragrant. Add a small pinch of salt as the garlic is cooking. Add the grated onion and the sage leaves. Add a pinch of salt. Sauté until the onion resembles translucent pulp, about 10 minutes.
Add the sausage and turn up the heat to medium-high. You want to start hearing a gently sizzle. With a potato masher, break up the sausage so that it looks like ground meat. Add a small pinch of salt. When the sausage is gray, indicating that it is thoroughly cooked, add the barley and sauté for a minute. Add the butternut squash, a little salt and cook, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the stock and bring to a boil. Depending on how salty the stock you’re using is, add a little salt (or not). Season with pepper. Once the soup starts boiling, lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 40 minutes. Taste the barley to make sure it is fully cooked. Remove the sage leaves. Add the baby spinach leaves and give the pot a good stir. Check for seasoning and ladle soup in bowls with a generous sprinkle of freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.