Toasted Israeli CousCous with Butternut Squash & Mozzarella

Sometimes you just need a quickie. (Dinner. I’m talking about dinner.) And it’s a good idea to have quickie ingredients in your pantry because you never know when the mood will strike. (Frantic. That frantic “OMG what am I going to make for dinner” mood.)

I’ve been experimenting with some new little grains, rices, and starches lately because they cook up in a flash, go with just about anything, and are a nice change from linguini or penne. Shy away from the boxes of “flavored” starches; they’re loaded with sodium and artificial stuff. Plus you can make something far more delicious in the same amount of time. If you have a natural foods grocery store at your disposal, you can commonly find these virgin starches in bulk bins – they’re perfect for trying out something new in a low-cost, no-risk way.

Risotto is actually a rice has a tendency to scare people out of trying to cook it at home. But it’s actually really easy – you just need to babysit it.

Couscous found mainstream popularity over the past few years partly because of its unique texture and mild flavor. The fact that cooks in literally 5 minutes doesn’t hurt. But I just found red couscous – you’ll love its nutty, earthy flavor.

Another fun one is quinoa. It’s actually not a grain but a seed. It’s packed with protein, amino acids, and dietary fiber, and like cous cous, offers an amiable flavor profile that goes with just about everything.

Farrow has been gaining popularity in the restaurant scene over the past few years. It’s a type of wheat, but it is significantly higher in fiber than typical wheat. It has a rough texture that not everyone loves, but if you like rustic whole grains, you’ll enjoy it.

Lately I’ve been in love with Israeli (or pearl) couscous. It’s actually not cous cous, but pasta. When slowly simmered (like risotto), the little balls of dough offer a fun, chewy texture that I really like. You can also toast it in a dry sauté pan over medium heat for a few minutes first then simmer, and you end up with a completely different toasted, nutty flavor.

So now that you have all these great starches to play with, simply open up your fridge and see what’s in there. You can pair any of these with just about any veggie. Don’t have fresh? Frozen or even canned works just as well. If you have salad greens that are on the verge, add them to the pot – they may not be crunchy and fresh enough for a salad, but wilted they’ll be delicious.

Chop up some fresh herbs and throw them in at the end, or stir in dried herbs half way through cooking. If you have leftover meat, or even canned shredded chicken, or chopped cold cuts, sauté a bit to brown the edges, then add to the mix. Got cheese? (What kitchen doesn’t!) Shred some of whatever kind you have on top and voila, you’ve got a great quickie dinner. No matter which ingredients you mix and match, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll have it done faster than the pizza guy can deliver. Enjoy your quickie!

Toasted Israeli CousCous with Butternut Squash and Fresh Mozzarella

Click here to print this recipe.
Serves: 4
Time to prepare: 30 minutes

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium shallot, sliced
1 small butternut squash, diced into 1” cubes
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups Israeli couscous
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 ¾ cups water
2 cups salad greens
1 cup small fresh mozzarella balls, halved
salt & pepper to taste

Peel and dice the butternut squash.

Melt butter in a large heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots, diced squash, nutmeg and cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until the shallots are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the couscous and toast until fragrant and very lightly browned, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently so as to prevent burning.

Add the white wine, stir and simmer to reduce.

Add the water, ½ teaspoon salt, bring to a light simmer, season with salt and cover. Simmer until liquid is almost absorbed and couscous and squash is tender, about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Stir in the salad greens and toss. Cook, stirring frequently, until greens are wilted.

Remove from heat, season to taste with salt and pepper, stir in mozzarella and serve.

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