Israeli Couscous with Sautéd Squash, Roasted Tomatoes & Garlic

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I like comfort food.  Which usually means a mouthful of pasta.  I especially like it when it is small enough that I can simply scoop spoonfuls into my mouth.  Gosh, I hope that doesn't sound gross. But it is quite satisfying.  Which is why I love creating salads that fit that agenda.  As with my Orzo Salad, this Israeli Couscous dish has that same mouthfeel.  Flavor in every bite filled with the comfort of a pasta.  Small enough that it's easy to spoon, swallow and spoon again.  Oh, yeah, don't forget to chew.

I created this dish for a Ladies' Lunch for my Mom and the women's group at her condo.  They were gracious enough to allow me to cater the lunch for them, and I had a blast doing it.  I will post more about the entire meal but for now, let's focus on spooning some of this salad for your next lunch, dinner side dish or BBQ party.  When I came up with idea it was to satisfy what I thought the women would enjoy as well as a dish that would be easy to make given all the other items I was making.  What I didn't even realize at the time was that this Israeli Couscous plays off the same idea as my Garlic Rice with Sautéd Zucchini & Tomatoes.  I found that recipe as I was writing this one so I could share other zucchini ideas. And there it was, along with several others.

Apparently, there are a million ways to serve up zucchini.  So here's a quick reminder of a few I have experimented with and achieved success.  Try them out while the weather is zucchini friendly.
Zucchini Crudo with Shaved Parmigiano & Mint Oil
Zucchini Orzo Pie
Zucchini Carpaccio
Balsamic Bathed Carrots Wrapped with Zucchini
An Asian Twist to Zucchini Ribbons

Now back to the main attraction. This is one of those dishes that you can literally being cooking, cutting, sautéing all at the same time.  A multitasking wonder. So I have written the instructions in a way to be most efficient. 

Ingredients

1.5 cups Israeli Couscous
1 large zucchini, cubed
1-2 small yellow squash, cubed
1 medium shallot, diced
1 pint grape tomatoes, oven roasted
4-5 whole garlic cloves
2-3 T basil, chiffonade
1 c olive Oil
1 t coarse salt
1/2 t pepper
*Note: You can alter the couscous to veg ratio if you like more of one.  Totally up to you.

Slice the squashes lengthwise first. Then strips, then cubes.

Slice the squashes lengthwise first. Then strips, then cubes.

 

Instructions

1. Roast the grape tomatoes in 1/2 c olive oil with whole cloves of garlic.  Refer to the oil roasted recipe in my post The  Great Tomato Caper.

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2.  While the tomatoes roast, cut the zucchini, yellow squash and shallots and sauté them separately in oil. Season with salt and pepper, adding half the shallots to each batch, once they are partially cooked.  You don't want to add the shallots first as they will burn.

Nice little cubes all the same size so you get a piece in every spoonful.

Nice little cubes all the same size so you get a piece in every spoonful.

Zucchini cubed up

Zucchini cubed up

3. While the squashes are sautéing, cook the Israeli Couscous as you would any type of pasta, in a large pot of salted boiling water.  Cook until al dente.  Drain and set aside in a serving bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil so it doesn't stick and let cool.

Gorgeous pearls of pasta

Gorgeous pearls of pasta

4.  Once the tomatoes are done, remove the garlic from their skins and mash them with a fork and course salt.  Add 1/4 c olive oil, pepper to taste and whisk together.

Grapes tomatoes oven roasted in luscious oil with roasted garlic.

Grapes tomatoes oven roasted in luscious oil with roasted garlic.

Sweet and tender garlic.

Sweet and tender garlic.

Smash to create a paste.

Smash to create a paste.

5. It is best to mix the roasted garlic oil into the couscous while it is still warm so the flavors absorb, but you can mix it at room temperature, too. Be sure to thoroughly incorporate.
6. Chiffonade the basil (cutting them in strips) and add to the couscous.
7. Then add some of the juices from the roasted tomatoes, the tomatoes and sautéed squashed. Gently mix until combined.  Serve room temperature.

A bowl of goodness that is pure pleasure to eat spoonful after spoonful.

A bowl of goodness that is pure pleasure to eat spoonful after spoonful.

This is one of those dishes that is both hearty but light at the same time.  The couscous is a pasta so it does do the job of satisfyingly fill you up, but the lightness of the veggies make it feel summertime fresh, especially served room temperature or even chilled.  

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I made this out of love.
Love of pasta.
Love for my Mom.
Love to share with others.

 

Print Friendly Recipe

 

Asparagus - Loved 3 Ways

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Asparagus. The tall green trees of the vegetable forest. They are cousins to broccoli; the shorter, fuller shrub like relative. But trees, all the same. I love these tall beauties all on their own, just as much as when mixed in with other vegetables. I love asparagus grilled, or sautéd, roasted or steamed.  It's safe to declare that I simply love them.  

I guess all that love started a want.  How can I include these more often but with flair.  That's when I began flirting with ways to enhance these long, earthy stalks. A simple addition of one or two extra items is all that was needed. Once I did, they went from average vegetable side dish, to a 'stand out, move over' dish. It doesn't take much to make them shine brighter.  Here are three ways, but I don't need to tell you that there are countless others. 
On tap today:

  1. Quail Eggs, Shallots

  2. Goat Cheese, Lemon Zest

  3. Chorizo & Caramelized Onions

Long, tall, green. Like cypress trees swaying in the wind.

Long, tall, green. Like cypress trees swaying in the wind.

Asparagus, chorizo, caramelized onions, goat cheese, lemon, shallot, quail eggs.

Asparagus, chorizo, caramelized onions, goat cheese, lemon, shallot, quail eggs.

The first time asparagus arrived at my enhancement clinic, I made hard boiled eggs, quartered them, steamed the asparagus, scattered some thinly sliced shallot then drizzled the entire dish with balsamic vinaigrette and served them as an appetizer.  My latest upgrade;  swap the big ole chicken egg for their diminutive cohorts, the quail egg, I must admit I loved it even more.  The quail eggs are petite and deliver a more delicate touch.

Asparagus with Hard Boiled Eggs & Balsamic Vinaigrette

When cooking the quail eggs, drop them in boiling water for only 2 minutes, then into a bowl of cold water, and peel. This amount of cook time and cold water shocking provides soft yolk perfection.

When cooking the quail eggs, drop them in boiling water for only 2 minutes, then into a bowl of cold water, and peel. This amount of cook time and cold water shocking provides soft yolk perfection.

The next time asparagus showed up for some freshening up, I grilled them, let them cool slightly then crumbled goat cheese along their bristled tops, let it rain lemon zest and drizzled a red wine, lemon shallot vinaigrette.

Asparagus with Goat Cheese & red wine, Lemon shallot Vinaigrette

It's truly as simple as adding goat cheese, lemon zest and drizzling with a red wine shallot vinaigrette. This ain't brain surgery, I know but it does taste good to the brain, the taste buds and the belly.

It's truly as simple as adding goat cheese, lemon zest and drizzling with a red wine shallot vinaigrette. This ain't brain surgery, I know but it does taste good to the brain, the taste buds and the belly.

The third time the asparagus knocked at the refresh clinic, they were seeking a bit more intensity. So a good helping of sautéd chorizo and caramelized onions with just a drizzle of oil, coarse salt and pepper fit their request.

Asparagus with chorizo & caramelized onions

Sauté chorizo and chop into small pieces, add caramelized onions and drizzle of oil.

Sauté chorizo and chop into small pieces, add caramelized onions and drizzle of oil.

3 approaches. 3 ingredients.

3 approaches. 3 ingredients.

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In all these versions, I opted to oven roasted the asparagus. I preferred this method over steaming for this round.. You can prepare them to your liking. These are just three simple stories to tall tales of a stalky green vegetable. Of course, there are more tales to tell...

Asparagus in quiche.  Or salads. 
Use creamy sour cream mustard dressing or a blue cheese dressing
Asparagus tart
Grilled asparagus tossed with pasta

3 ways? Oh dear asparagus, stop by the enhancement clinic any day of the week, there are an eternity ways...

 
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Grilled Romaine & Blue Cheese Salad with Warm Vinaigrette

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It's a frigid, white winter, so who feels like eating salad?  Not me, Answered everyone.

But getting your greens even in wintertime is essential. The inspiration for this salad came by way of my muse, AKA my sister Jill, who loves herself a good Wedge Salad and who would be joining us for dinner that night.  I only had a few ingredients to work with but all the ones she loves; lettuce, onions and blue cheese.  So I got thinking about how to bring in the warmth because it was way too nippy for a cold, crisp salad, and no way was iceberg lettuce entering my house.  I hate to be snooty but well, I am.  If you are going to make the effort to eat lettuce go one step further and buy one with actual nutrients.  (Let me just clarify my sister's iceberg indulgence.  She doesn't buy that kind of lettuce, but does enjoy ordering that Wedge thing in a restaurant. Guilty pleasure.)

As I step down off my soapbox, I'm here to confess that grilling lettuce is not my usual thing.  I have tried grilling radicchio and have found that it often increases the bitterness.  A bit too much bite for me.  But like I mentioned, we needed to eat salad of sorts and ingesting a cold dish was not in the cards.  So I harkened back to my idea of combining temperatures in a salad, only this time the actual lettuce was the one providing the hot.  I was also inspired to share this recipe since one of my readers told me that she was making my recipe for Salad: Hot & Cold to bring to a New Year's Eve party.  How great was that! My own little new year's cheer.

So here's my take on a Wedge Salad but one that warms your tummy and delivers more that just empty calories.

Ingredients
 

(Serves 4 as a side or 2 main)

2 Hearts of Romaine
2 scallions, sliced
3/4 c Blue cheese of your choice
2 small yellow onions, sliced
bacon, optional

For the dressing
1/3 c shallots, fine dice
1/3 c  olive oil
3 T fresh lemon juice
lemon zest

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First things first, get the slices of onion, seasoned with salt, pepper and drizzle of oil in a 400 degree oven. Let them get really roasted to bring out the earthy flavor.

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While the onions are in the oven, begin making the warm vinaigrette by sautéing the shallots in 2 T of oil.  Once softened, season with salt and pepper and add the remaining oil and heat slowly over a low flame.  Remove from heat and right before serving whisk in the lemon juice.

Cut the whole heads of romaine right down the middle keeping the core so they stay in tact.  Season with salt, pepper and oil and place them cut side down on the grill.  These will not take long. You only want to get some grill marks and warm them up, not completely cook or wilt them.

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All that is left to do is plate your salad.  On one platter, place the grilled romaine cut side up, top with the onions, sprinkle the slices scallions and dot with the lots cubes of blue cheese.  Jill and I agreed that more cheese the merrier we were.  Drizzle the warm dressing over top.

Hearty bean, potato and escarole soup similar style to my Kale, Potato soup, recipe below

Hearty bean, potato and escarole soup similar style to my Kale, Potato soup, recipe below

So with a few ingredients roasted, grilled and warmed up you too can cozy up to a salad in the winter without chilling your insides.  Serve this, as I did,  with a hearty bean and escarole soup and kick the chill to the curb.  (Sure I could have amped this up by pouring my homemade blue cheese dressing on it, but thought we would keep the calorie count down. Maybe not so much for Jill, but for me.)

A few other recipes that are warm and would snuggle up nicely to this salad.

Kale, Potato, Lentil Soup
Loaded Potato - Healthy Style
Polenta Stuffed Peppers
Meaty Ragu

Now that my fears of grilling lettuce are over, maybe I'll give radicchio another chance to prove herself.

Happy Wintertime Grilling.

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Something from Nothing Asian Style Noodle Soup

I'm sure you are thinking, "hot soup in the summer?"  But as Charles Grodin's character in the movie Midnight Run so famously proclaimed, " What the hell? What the hell?"  I, too, ask the same.  

Global Warming
Climate Change
Mother Nature Screwing Around

Title it however your heart desires, but the weather is playing havoc with my normal summer cooking patterns. One week it's so hot that the act of eating food is almost a chore, let alone preparing it.  The next week is rainy, chilly and desperately screaming out for warm soup to thaw the soul.  Lucky thing for me I had some items that produced the perfect remedy for the fickle temperature swings occurring in my zip code.  Come to think of it, there are plenty of food items that can go from cold to warm food preparations with just a few adjustments.  

If you are still in a time zone that offers true summer weather, God bless, and just push the pause button on this post and save it for a rainy day in your area code.  Or you can make this as directed then let the soup come to room temperature and add a peanut sauce, for a cold noodle dish. Versatility is the name of this game and the items I purchase and keep stocked in my house better know that going in... Otherwise they are OUT.

Embarking on a food adventure to remove the chill from a rainy Monday put the something from nothing mantra to the test.  I started out knowing I wanted to make soup. That usually cures any of my belly aching about the cold. I knew for sure I had:

If you don't have these curly garlic scapes, garlic will do just fine.

If you don't have these curly garlic scapes, garlic will do just fine.

  • Onions & Shallot (ever in abundance in my house)

  • Garlic scapes** (bought them at the farmer's market because they are only in season for about 2 weeks)

  • Ginger (because I've been making ginger mint tea to heal myself from sinusitis)

  • Rice Noodles (another staple in my pantry)

Thinly slice the garlic scapes. I like the diagonal, as it gives more surface area when sautéing. Also, cut off the end of the garlic scape and toss out, as this part, much like that of an asparagus, can be tough.

Thinly slice the garlic scapes. I like the diagonal, as it gives more surface area when sautéing. Also, cut off the end of the garlic scape and toss out, as this part, much like that of an asparagus, can be tough.

I combined a tad of sesame oil and olive oil and salt to soften up the aromatics.

I combined a tad of sesame oil and olive oil and salt to soften up the aromatics.

After I diced up, chopped and sliced up the aromatics (onion, shallot, ginger slices and garlic scapes), they all went into a pot to sauté with some sesame and olive oil. Whilst that was happening, I soaked the rice noodles.  

Rice noodles are easy. Just soak in hot water for 5-10 minutes, then add to boiling water or soup.

Rice noodles are easy. Just soak in hot water for 5-10 minutes, then add to boiling water or soup.

As with any something from nothing escapade, I continue to think and build on an idea as I go. So while those were doing their thing, I starting rummaging through my fridge. Next set of items found and destined to be added:

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  • Jalapeño pepper

  • Scallions

  • Curly Kale

After all those went into the pot with some water, salt and tumeric, I tasted it and felt it needed a bit more flavor.  I decided to grate some of the items already present in the pot.  (Cilantro would be a great addition but I was happy with just the kale.)

Grating can really intensify the flavor, so garlic scapes, ginger and even the onion got the rasping treatment.   Flavor essence enhanced and into the soup.  Then in went the noodles and just like that I had Asian Style Noodle soup.  

As I mentioned, you can certainly enjoy this one hot, as I did.  Any protein could be added to this. Think grilled shrimp, or chicken or steak even.  But if it's not cold where you are and these flavors are calling out your name, add some peanut sauce and enjoy a cold noodle dish.  This hot, steamy pot did more than just shoo the chills away, it soothed my soul.

Something from nothing is just that darn easy.  

**Garlic scapes you ask?  I am drawn to produce that looks different from the usual fair.  So it should come as no shocker that I would grab these curly, wiry thangs.   Garlic scapes are the actual flower bud of the garlic plant.  They are only in season a short while in late June when the bud is removed to encourage the bulbs to thicken up.  Scapes taste just like garlic, but I feel they are a bit milder. 

 

Pasta Mescolanza - Mesco What?

Now I bet you are wondering about the title of this post. No, it doesn't mean eggplant which is ironic since that IS the main ingredient. Basically it means mixed up pasta.  This is the word my grandmother used to dub my dishes whenever I made up recipes that seemed odd or foreign to her.  So it seemed quite fitting to give this dish that name since it is typical of my  'what do I have to cook with?' style.

It all began this past Monday as I was driving home from the city right around lunch time.  I was so hungry that my first instinct was to stop on any city street corner and grab some food.  I even considered one of those nasty looking carts that didn't look quite...well, shall we say "healthy". Lucky for me my natural tendency was to not spend money needlessly when I knew there were items at home.  It just required some patience.  I endured the ride home and used the time to mentally survey what contents presently existed in my refrigerator. I knew I had two things that needed to get used soon. Eggplant and feta cheese.  (I zealously over bought fresh feta from our local Armenian market because it looked oh so beautiful and I wanted to do a taste comparison between French & Greek Feta.)

I also knew I had potatoes and for a split second starting building on that.  Until my Italian roots kicked in with deep rumblings from my stomach crying out PASTA. Which is how that became the base for whatever it was I was about to cook up.  As with any 'something from nothing'  creation, you build as you go.  I got home and immediately put water up to boil for my pasta.

Pasta boiling away.Doesn't that look like the start of something heavenly.  

Pasta boiling away.Doesn't that look like the start of something heavenly.  

Then I opened the fridge to see what else might tag along on this eggplant, feta, pasta ride.  Staple items sitting in the door shelves screamed out 'Use me, it's been awhile.'  In order of loudest screams were:  sun-dried tomatoes, oil cured olives, and capers. The shallot and garlic were a given to be used.  Earthy, strong, powerful flavors taking a stand for pasta.

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While the pasta was boiling away, I cubed the eggplant and in a screaming hot cast iron skillet I added a small amount of oil and the eggplant.  Key here, do not add too much oil or touch the eggplant.  It's a sponge.  The more oil you add the more it will absorb and then it gets mushy.  Not stirring them around allows them to sear, which is what I wanted.  

 

Whilst that was cooking away, I chopped up sun-dried tomatoes, black oil cured olives, shallot and garlic.  

Once I gave the eggplant a stir, I added a bit more oil along with the shallots and garlic to let them cook.  Then in went the rest of the items.  Do not add any salt to this before you taste it. Between the sun-dried tomatoes, olives and capers the salt level is already at a pretty good pitch. (If you like heat, add some red pepper flakes.)

 

The Mescolanza coming together.

The Mescolanza coming together.

The pasta was just shy of al dente, so it was the perfect time to add it to the eggplant pan and combine.  And a little of the pasta water helps binds it altogether.

As I mentioned I had a ton of feta so that is what I topped this dish with.  However, goat cheese would be great too. This dish has an very earthy flavor to it.  Not for the shy at heart since all those flavors pack a punch.  When you are starving with but one fresh element to work with, pull from your reserves and create your own Pasta Mescolanza.  Perfect for Monday or any day.  

Below are the rough amounts for this dish.  Honestly, I would have never measured a single item for this creation, as a true something from nothing creation is all about whatever you have in whatever amount you have. But I did want to give you a guide, so below is what I used.  This only took 15 minutes to pull together and my stomach was as happy as any Italian could be.

ingredients

1/2 lb pasta
1/4 c approx. Baby eggplant, cubed
1/3 c sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 c black oil cured olives, chopped
1/4 c shallots, minced
1 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 t capers
Olive oil
Feta or goat cheese, amount to be determined by you

While writing this post, I ate the whole bowl and forced myself to stay in my office so as not to go back for a refill. The two things I would do differently.  Mince or thinly slice the garlic, and add fresh parsley or basil if I had any. Also, I ate the leftovers the next day and used creamy goat cheese.  I must admit that I prefer that over the feta as it mellows out the intense flavors of all the other ingredients and creates a creaminess to the dish.  A Mangiare!!