Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Couscous w/ Fresh Corn, Garden Tomatoes & Arugula Pesto

I've been known to polish off a coffee cake in one sitting. I will seek out chocolate like a truffle pig. I can hardly start the morning without some kind of bread/muffin/biscuit/scone thingy. Yet, if I had to pick my favorite plate of food it would be a collection of salads made with Quinoa, Couscous, Farro, Mushrooms, Nuts and Vegetables. Does that make me "Bi-Palate"?

Israeli Couscous w/ Fresh Corn,
Heritage Tomatoes and Arugula Pesto

One reason I love entertaining is the challenge of crafting the event and the food around what or whom is being celebrated. My goal is always to Feed-The Fun! This past weekend, it was a Bridal Shower. The gorgeous lady-of-the-day is an actress, a yoga instructor, a baker and very intelligent about food. Her shower was vibrant with laughter and retro-games mixed with original games thought up by her circle of long-time girl friends (including a Newly Wed game that involved an interview with the groom-to-be on screen.) It was stylish and there were a lot of gorgeous people in one place.
(original photography by

The sparkling bride-to-be loves and appreciates baked goods, so I made Lavender Cupcakes w/Lavender Frosting and Lemon Curd Filling.
She prefers healthy and mostly meatless meals, so I made Quinoa w/dried cherries in Lettuce Cups.

She enjoys eating seasonal, farmer's market foods, so I made Israeli Couscous with Fresh Corn (cut off the cob), and my very own garden Heritage Tomatoes, with home made Arugula Pesto.The next day, I made it again -- for me. Today, it was lunch -- for me. Send help, I'm Crazy-for-Couscous. Every bite of these tiny pasta pearls are dressed with peppery Arugula Pesto. Then, they get bejeweled with Heritage Tomatoes.Every spoonful is dotted with caramelized onions and sweet corn.
I have 2 ears of corn left and maybe one more apron-full of summer garden tomatoes. I have a long airplane ride ahead of me this week and you can bet I will have a little carry-on tub of this to munch.

The standard Couscous (originally from Northern Africa) that we buy in bulk or box in America is sometimes mistakenly thought of as a grain. Actually, it's pasta. It's made from hard semolina, and anciently from the durum (hard grain of the wheat.) It is a process that includes grinding, rolling, drying, and pre-steaming. A simplified version of it is done when you make Fregola Pasta. Using the boxed versions allows us to skip that part and gives us a filling and healthy dish that only takes a few minutes to cook. Like rice, Couscous easily takes on the seasonings and flavors that you add to the broth or cooked pasta. It can be served hot, warm or chilled and also makes a great thickener for soups and stews.

Israeli Couscous is similar to the standard Couscous, but the pasta rounds are larger. It was created during a time when rice was hard to come by in Israel. The wheat based dish was a great substitute for the daily consumption of rice (for anyone who could eat gluten.)
Regular Couscous is generally cooked by adding 1 part dried couscous to 1.5 parts liquid, bringing it to a boil, covering it and taking the pan off the heat for about 5 minutes.

Israeli Couscous does better, I think, when you stir the dried grains in a bit of oil or butter to coat them, then stir to toast just a bit. Then, you add the liquid, bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat while it cooks for about 10 minutes.

Either kind of Couscous is so versatile and easy to store that it makes an easy go-to life saver in your pantry.

RECIPE: Israeli Couscous with Fresh Corn, Heritage Tomatoes and Arugula Pesto

1 cup fresh corn (about 2 cobs)
1/2 onion chopped
1 Tbls. butter
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbls. Olive Oil ( + more for drizzling)
Pinch of Garam Masala
3 cups fresh Arugula
1/4 cup pine nuts (toasted)
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Cheese
3 cups diced Heritage tomatoes
2 cups Israeli Couscous (or standard - just follow pkg. directions)

1) In a skillet on Med. heat, melt 2 Tbls. butter and 2 Tbls. Olive oil, add the onions and fresh corn. Season and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Add a pinch of Garam Masala and stir to heat through and distribute amazing flavor.

2) Scrap the corn/onions into a bowl to cool and hold til later. Using the same pan (with a tiny drizzle of oil if needed) saute the Arugula just until wilted. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.
3) In a blender - add the sauteed Arugula, the toasted pine nuts, 3 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup grated cheese, 1/2 cup Olive Oil, and a pinch of salt. Puree into a smooth pesto. Adjust seasoning to taste.

4) In a large saucepan, heat a drizzle of Olive Oil and add the Israeli Couscous. Stir to slightly toast the couscous for about 5 minutes, then add enough water to cover double the height of the Couscous.
Heat to boiling, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes til the Couscous is tender. Drain and spread out on a sheet pan to cool.

5) Transfer the Couscous to a large serving bowl. Stir in the Pesto, then fold in the Corn, Tomatoes and garnish with more Arugula and Grated Cheese.

Couscous is an easy base to your imagination. I hope you'll discover some of your own combinations of flavors and additions to this easy and healthy pasta. I'd love to hear about them. Enjoy and thanks for stopping by~


Ivonne F said...

Lovvvved this salad, so glad I get the recipe now. I will be bringing this to my next fam party.
I am also going to try to veganize it so the bf can enjoy it too! Thanks so much!

lynn said...

i adore israeli couscous. the perfect grain for hearty salads!

Khali//Bandit and the Scene Stealers said...

Oh yummy! I wanna be on that plane ride with you.

Sippity Sup said...

I am going to try your "risotto" trick on couscous. Thanks for the tip. GREG

Nancy said...

Oh my goodness.... I was laughing out loud reading this post!!! I think I am bi palate too ... is there a support group for that???

I am a huge fan of Israeli couscous and this salad is scrumptious and just the type of grain based salad that I love!!
It's been WAAY too long since I've stopped by your blog!

The Sentimental Suitcase said...

Gosh Cathy you really are a genuis aren't you?
Man that looks good!