Risotto is a traditional dish made with rice cooked in broth to a creamy consistency. Usually, I add rice-shaped pasta (such as orzo or melon-seed pasta) which add more creaminess to the risotto. The problem was that today I unfortunately had no Arborio or Carnaroli rice in my pantry. I experimented with the only starchy ingredient I found in the kitchen; Israeli couscous. Israeli couscous is a small-grained toasted pasta.
I flavored it with roasted bell peppers. It's not very traditional but I found the starchiness of the couscous worked well. Surprisingly, the new version of risotto was very popular among the children in my house. I'm definitely going to make this dish again, maybe with other flavorings.
Servings: 8 servings
3 combined red, orange and yellow bell peppers
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoons canola oil
3 cups Israeli toasted couscous
6-½ cups vegetable stock, warm
3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
½ cup Cheddar cheese, cubed
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
½ teaspoon white pepper, freshly ground
2 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)
Roasting red bell peppers in the oven: Preheat your oven to 450°F. Spread the peppers evenly on a cookie sheet, in a single layer. Roast the peppers for about 4-5 minutes until the skins blister and darken. Watch carefully so they don't burn. Wrap each pepper in aluminum foil. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes until you can handle them without discomfort. Clean and remove the skin from the peppers using a knife (or under running water); the skin will come right off. Seed them and thinly slice the flesh. Cut the slices in half.
For the Isreali couscous:
In a deep saucepan, heat the oil and fry the shallots until golden. Transfer to a plate with the roasted bell peppers, leaving as much oil as possible in the saucepan. In the same saucepan, add the lsraeli couscous and butter. The oil should coat all the grains. Add 2 cups of vegetable stock and the Cheddar cheese and stir frequently.
After bringing the liquid to a boil, lower the heat to medium low and cook for about 10 minutes. Check the liquid and periodically add ½ cup of warm stock as soon as the liquid is absorbed. Let simmer for another 25 minutes.
When the couscous is almost cooked, season with salt and pepper. Top with the roasted bell peppers and fresh dill. Stir well. Drizzle with a little cream (if used) and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Let sit for about 5 minutes.
Garnish with more dill before serving.
Accompany with grilled meat and grilled vegetables.
Israeli couscous, also called pearl couscous, is a grain-shaped pasta that keeps a firm, al-dente texture when it's cooked. I also often serve it as salad. You can find it at Trader Joe's.
Coating each grain in butter prevents them from sticking to one another.
For a vegan version, substitute coconut oil for the butter and omit the cheeses.
For this dish, I used exactly 6-½ cups of stock (you could also use chicken stock). The quantity of liquid may vary depending on the heat of the stove and how long you're cooking the grains. At the end, I let it simmer uncovered, sometimes adding another ¼ cup of warm liquid at a time until I achieve the right consistency and level of doneness. I like the couscous al dente, not too mushy. Watch the risotto closely! The key is to pour the liquid incrementally and never let the dish dry out, or the couscous will burn at the bottom.
Another great method is grilling the bell peppers on a barbecue or on the stove. Roasting the veggies in the oven seems to be the quickest way, though.
You can use any other vegetables that are in season such as eggplant, asparagus, squash or zucchini.
The addition of Parmesan cheese at the end adds a salty note.