Sub in pearl couscous for rice for a quick and creamy “risotto”

Classic risotto is made with starchy, medium-grain Italian rice, such as Arborio or Carnaroli. It is grilled and then cooked, sometimes slowly, over low heat while the broth is poured into the pan in stages. As the liquid absorbs, the cook stirs, stirs, and continues stirring.

This “risotto,” from our “COOKish” book, which limits recipes to just six ingredients without sacrificing flavor, uses pearl couscous (which is actually a paste) and higher heat to produce “grains” with a rich and creamy consistency.

Just like with rice, the stirring releases the starch from the couscous which thickens into a creamy sauce, and the “risotto” is finished in the time it takes to cook the pasta.

The wheat flavor of pearl couscous (sometimes called Israeli couscous or ptitim) pairs perfectly with the herbaceous, subtly sweet asparagus and the salty, nutty flavor of parmesan cheese.

We reserve the asparagus stalk and tips separately; they are added at different times as they cook at slightly different rates. Do not use particularly thick or particularly thin asparagus for this recipe; the pencil-sized spears will be perfectly tender when the couscous is cooked.


Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 4

4 tablespoons (½ stick) salted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

3 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 cup pearl couscous

⅓ cup dry white wine

1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into ½-inch pieces; reserve stems and tips separately

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (½ cup), plus more for serving

½ cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus more for serving

In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add onion and ½ tsp salt and pepper, then cook, stirring, until starting to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add couscous and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown.

Add wine and cook, stirring, until skillet is almost dry, about 1 minute. Add 3 cups of water and ½ teaspoon of salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in the asparagus stalks and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, then stir in the asparagus tips. Continue to cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the asparagus is tender, about 2 minutes longer.

Off the heat, add the parmesan, parsley and the remaining tablespoon of butter, then stir until the butter melts. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with additional parmesan and parsley.

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