Variations on a Theme: Couscous

**Update 3/13: Ingredients have been changed to gluten-free**

Hello hello! My goodness, it was a strange semester. I won’t go into the sordid-ish details here, but suffice it to say that 2011 was thoroughly exhausting but also thoroughly fun. I actually feel like a grown-up now instead of like a fourteen-year-old masquerading as a college student. I still look about fourteen, though.

Amidst studying for finals and pretending to write a NaNoWriMo novel (read a slightly misquoted interview with my lovely novel-writing friend and me here), the number of posts around here dwindled quite a bit, as you probably noticed. Or maybe you didn’t notice. That’s okay. I never liked you, anyway.

The amount of cooking I did dwindled, too. In fact, I’m not really sure what I ate during most of November. I mostly remember drinking lots of Starbucks chai and occasionally hiding Chik-fil-A bags behind me as I walked through the Union so that people wouldn’t think I was anti-gay or something. I waffle when it comes to waffle fries.

When I did get around to cooking, though, I made couscous.

Couscous is far easier to cook than rice or pasta. The most involved of today’s recipes takes 30-40 minutes, tops.

Couscous hails from Morocco and other cool African places,  and my take on it is not exactly traditional. Usually served as an accompaniment to meaty things like lamb, I prefer to eat couscous as a main course. I eat sides as main courses a lot since I’m cooking for one, and we all know that the sides are usually better, anyway. Couscous is wildly versatile, too, and sometimes it’s even better cold, which makes it great for on-campus lunches when I’m not near a microwave. Below is basic couscous recipe, then three couscous variations. Add, adjust and subtract ingredients as you like, and send me your own variations. The final recipe for Roasted Radish and Carrot Couscous with Goat Cheese (oy, that’s a delicious mouthful) is my favorite. It’s lovely and warm in these winter months. Luckily, you can find gluten-free brands of couscous, or you can substitute quinoa if you prefer. I personally find the nuttiness of quinoa too strong for any of these recipes.

Basic Couscous Recipe
Makes 1-2 servings

3/4 cup water or gluten-free chicken broth
2/3 cup dry gluten-free couscous
Approximately 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon olive oil

In a small saucepan, bring liquid and olive oil to a boil over medium heat. Quickly stir in couscous, then cover and remove from heat. Allow couscous to sit for five minutes. Then, return to low heat, add Parmesan, and stir until the Parmesan melts. Eat alone, or add some of the other stuff that follows.

Fluorescent lighting is weird, you guys.

Lemon Parsley Couscous
(adapted from Southern Living)
Makes 1-2 servings

1 Basic couscous recipe
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup feta cheese

Make the couscous. Stir in the other stuff. Not even kidding. It’s that easy. Serve cold (my favorite) or warm. This recipe was originally intended as a side for a shrimp dish.

Pesto and Pine Nut Couscous
Makes 1-2 servings

1 Basic couscous recipe
1/3 cup (or more) of gluten-free pesto
1 tablespoon of pine nuts
1/3 cup feta cheese
1 handful of cherry tomatoes, halved or whole

Make the couscous. Stir in as much or as little pesto as you’d like. If desired, toast the pinenuts in a dry skillet over medium heat. Shake the skillet as you go to prevent burning. Toss pine nuts, feta, and tomatoes with the couscous. Serve warm or cold.

Roasted Radish and Carrot Couscous with Goat Cheese
(kudos to Food Network Magazine for roasting tips)
Makes 1-2 servings

You guys, radishes are a revelation. I was working my way through a list of root vegetables in the Food Network magazine, and I actually stopped with radishes since they’re so delicious. I suspect I don’t hear people rhapsodizing about radishes more often because they’ve never had a radish roasted. The roasting takes out the bitterness usually associated with radishes. I’m particularly proud of this recipe for some reason. It’s not complicated, but I first made it just trying to use up the random things in my fridge, and it turned out astoundingly well. We’ll actually need sort-of steps for this one.

1 Basic couscous recipe
12-15 small red radishes, quartered
2-3 carrots, chopped into coins
1 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons gluten-free dried thyme
1/2 cup (or way, way more) of goat cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Toss radishes and carrots with oil and thyme. Spread radishes and carrots onto the baking sheet. Don’t crowd the veggies! Cook for 20-30 minutes, checking every five minutes or so to prevent burning.

2. Make basic couscous recipe. Combine all the roasted goodness with the couscous and as much goat cheese as you’d like. Serve to warm your soul on a winter’s day.

Up next: You know? I really have no idea. Cheers!


Ravioli with Spicy Sage Butter

**Update 3/13: Recipe has been modified for gluten-free diet. Pictures are not of gluten-free items.**

Though last week I posted about Zucchini and Goat Cheese “Crustless” Quiche, the following recipe was the actual first meal I made in my new kitchen:

Isn’t it such a lovely light-filled kitchen? The fridge is out of frame, and on the left we have two sets of French doors. Yesterday, the weather was so lovely that I cooked with the doors open. With Aretha Franklin playing in the background, the scene was idyllic. And then a bee flew in and I had to chase it away. Not the brightest idea I’ve ever had.

I’ve always adored ravioli, but in restaurants it tends to be drowned in sauce, so I hardly ever order it. This quick butter sauce adds the perfect amount of kick to 5-cheese or ricotta and spinach ravioli. Just a little drizzled over your ravioli, and you’ve got a dish drenched in flavor rather than in heavy tomato sauce. I’ve adapted this recipe from one of my favorite chefs, Giada di Laurentiis. (Is it sad that I can’t hear her name now without thinking of Pretty Little Liars?)

Ravioli with Spicy Sage Butter
(adapted from Giada di Laurentiis)
Serves 1-2

18 pieces gluten-free cheese or ricotta and spinach ravioli (Conte’s brand makes a g-free ravioli. If you’re in the ATX, you can find it at the HEB on 41st and Red River)
2 tablespoons butter
10-12 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1/2 tablespoon gluten-free red pepper flakes
1/4 tablespoon gluten-free paprika
1/4 cup pasta water
Parmesan for topping

1. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to boil. Add ravioli, cooking for about five minutes. While ravioli cooks, melt butter in a small skillet. Once melted, add olive oil, sage, red pepper flakes, and paprika. Swirl together.

2. When ravioli is cooked through (all pieces float to the top), use a slotted spoon to transfer ravioli to skillet. Add 1/4 cup of pasta water. Toss ravioli with sauce until the butter begins to bubble and brown.

3. Spoon ravioli onto a plate. Drizzle with as much sauce as you like.

Modification when making a smaller serving: Prepare same amount of sauce, but only cook 9 pieces of ravioli. Leftover sauce can be refrigerated for 2-3 days.

I like to eat this dish along with a glass of milk because of my ridiculously low tolerance for spice.
Thanks for reading! Up next: Eggplant, Feta, and Tomato Bruschetta.

Zucchini and Goat Cheese “Crustless” Quiche

**Update: Recipe has been modified for gluten-free**

In this post, I will live up to the title of this blog.

The transition between 80-degree Knoxville summers and scorchingly hellish Austin has made me a little more klutzy than usual. In the airport security line I dropped my laptop battery on my shoeless foot. (My toe randomly dislocated on that foot this summer, too.) Apartment move-in left me significantly battered from dropping little things on myself, like tables. My friends tell me that my bruise-covered legs look like rotting potatoes now.

Lovely way to start a recipe entry, huh?

Among other addled things, I discovered that I left my camera cord in Knoxville. The one time I don’t make an insanely organized packing list…(Also, I no longer have my brother’s fancy camera to use, so picture quality will be somewhat diminished.)

But the wait is finally over! In the interlude I’ve been cooking up a tiny tempest, and thanks to my mommy, my camera cord has come back to me. My most recent kitchen accomplishment: Zucchini and Goat Cheese “Crustless” Quiche.

Things that were successful about this quiche:
-I successfully separated two eggs.
-I did not cut myself.
-The apartment did not burn down.
-The quiche was delicious.

Things that were not so successful about this quiche:
-I burned olive oil in a stainless steel skillet. After scrubbing vigorously with a mixture of baking soda and Dawn and then soaking over night, the once gloriously shiny skillet is still, well, brown.
-I also burned my tongue.
-Between scrubbing skillets and whatnot, prep time took about 40 minutes longer than it should have.

Hopefully, you have fewer mishaps than I did. Total time for this quiche is 2 hours and 20 minutes, but it is well worth the effort. Set aside a lazy Sunday afternoon for making this, and share the scrumptiousness with 6-8 people.

Zucchini and Goat Cheese “Crustless” Quiche
(adapted from Food Network Kitchens)

1 1/2 large zucchini and 1 large yellow summer squash
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups gluten-free breadcrumbs
1 medium white onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tsp minced garlic (or 2 garlic cloves)
2 tablespoons parsley
2 tablespoons herbes de provence or rosemary/marjoram
1 tablespoon oregano
2 cups half-and-half
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks (I learned how to separate eggs from this very short video.)
Black pepper
6 ounces goat cheese (goat cheese logs usually come in either 8 oz or 4 oz pkgs.)
About 1/2 cup grated Gruyere or Swiss Cheese.

Note: I used a 9-inch glass pie pan, but an 11-inch tart pan would probably be more suitable and less likely to overflow.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (Because my oven is under my cooktop, I actually didn’t do this until after I’d finish sautéing the veggies)

2. Grate zucchini and/or squash on the large holes of a box grater. Or, if you are me who only has a little hand grater that is adorable but is really only useful for looking all schnazzy when you grate fresh Parmesan over your pasta, julienne your veggies. Chop your onion if you haven’t already.

3. Rinse zucchini shavings in a colander. Allow to drain for at least 15 minutes. Squeeze the shavings by the handful to get rid of some of the water. Set aside.

4. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. DO NOT get distracted and let your olive oil burn. It ain’t pretty. Add bread crumbs and stir for about 5 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are evenly toasted. Evenly spread bread crumbs in a 9-inch glass pie pan. Or if you’re cool and you have a quiche/tart pan, use that. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

5. Wipe out the skillet. Add 2 more tablespoons olive oil, the onions, garlic, and salt to taste. Cook over medium-high heat, until the onions start to brown. (Food Network said that would take 5 minutes. It took more like 10 for me.) Add the zucchini, parsley, herbes de provence, and oregano. Stir just until zucchini gets limp. Remove  skillet from heat and allow mixture to cool.

5. In a small bowl, whisk yolks, eggs and half-and-half. Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Add the zucchini mixture to the pie pan and spread evenly. Try not to fill past the top of the pan, and if you have extra zucchini, it’s yummy enough to eat all by itself. Crumble goat cheese over the vegetables in an even layer. Top with a sprinkling of Gruyere. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the top, starting in the center. Depending on what kind of pan you use, you may have a little bit of egg mixture left over.

7. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until top is golden brown and center is set. (Test with a fork – it should feel firm, not squishy.) Allow to cool before serving.

Up Next: Ravioli with Spicy Sage Butter. And, at some point, I’ll tell y’all how to use up those pesky leftover egg whites…