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Sometimes, making weeknight cooking easier and more flavorful requires a fresh perspective on traditional dishes. Take risotto, for example. In most recipes, chicken broth is added to rice in stages, which requires constant stirring to create a creamy sauce by combining starches, butter, and broth.

However, we’ve learned a game-changing technique from a farm-to-table restaurant in Tel Aviv called Igra Rama. Chef Aner Ben Refael uses a common Israeli pantry staple – pearl couscous – as a substitute for rice in risotto.

Unlike rice, pearl couscous is not a grain but a small, round pasta called ptitim or “little crumbles” in Hebrew. It cooks much faster than rice but still releases enough starch to create a creamy sauce. This recipe, adapted from our book “COOKish,” requires minimal stirring.

The wheaty flavor of pearl couscous, also known as Israeli couscous, pairs perfectly with the salty, nutty taste of Parmesan cheese and the freshness of parsley. Adding crisp-tender asparagus, a springtime favorite, enhances the dish even further. Plus, using water instead of chicken broth not only lightens the meal but also keeps it vegetarian.

Here’s how to make 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
– ⅓ cup dry white wine
– 1 cup pearl couscous
– 1 pound asparagus (or 2 cups frozen peas), trimmed and sliced about ⅛ inch thick
– 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (½ cup), plus more to serve

1. In a 12-inch skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring, until softened.
2. Add the garlic and continue cooking until fragrant. Pour in the wine and let it simmer until evaporated.
3. Stir in 4 cups of water and the couscous. Simmer uncovered until the couscous is slightly undercooked.
4. Add the asparagus and cook, stirring, until both the asparagus and couscous are tender.
5. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Serve with a sprinkle of more Parmesan cheese.

Enjoy this delightful couscous “risotto” with asparagus, a quick and easy dish packed with flavor!

[Unique Perspective]

By using pearl couscous instead of rice, this recipe offers a fresh twist on traditional risotto. The couscous’s shorter cooking time and ability to release starch still produce a creamy texture, making it a time-saving and delicious option for a weeknight meal. The combination of flavors from the couscous, Parmesan cheese, and asparagus creates a well-balanced and satisfying dish. So why not try this unique take on risotto and elevate your weeknight cooking?

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