Sometimes the key to easy, flavorful weeknight cooking is looking at dishes in a different way. Risotto, for instance. In typical recipes, chicken broth is added to rice in stages, requiring constant stirring that knocks loose starches that combine with butter and broth to create a creamy sauce.
Delicious, yes, but we picked up a revelatory technique from Tel Aviv’s farm-to-table restaurant Igra Rama that saved time and effort without sacrificing flavor. Chef Aner Ben Refael turns to a common Israeli pantry staple — pearl couscous — and treats it like rice for risotto.
Because couscous is not a grain but rather a tiny, round pasta — known as ptitim, or “little crumbles” in Hebrew — it requires much less cooking time. But it still releases enough starch to create the ideal creamy sauce. For this recipe from our book “COOKish,” little stirring is required.
The wheaty flavor of pearl couscous, which sometimes is labeled Israeli couscous, is nicely complemented by the salty, nutty notes of Parmesan cheese and the grassiness of fresh parsley. Fresh springtime asparagus makes the perfect crisp-tender addition, and using water to cook the pasta instead of chicken broth not only lightens this dish, but also keeps it vegetarian.
Couscous ‘Risotto’ With Asparagus
Start to finish: 30 minutes. Servings: 4
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 cup pearl couscous
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and sliced about 1/8 inch thick OR 2 cups frozen peas
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (½ cup), plus more to serve
In a 12-inch skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring, until softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until evaporated. Stir in 4 cups water and the couscous, then simmer uncovered until just shy of tender. Add the asparagus and cook, stirring, until both it and the couscous are tender. Off heat, stir in the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with additional cheese.