Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Israeli Couscous Salad

The traditional tiny couscous as we usually recognize it isn't really my favorite. It's fine to have a dollop on the side of your plate but it's mealy, sand-like texture wears thin on me after a while.

Different is "Israeli Couscous". Also known as maftoul or pearl couscous, it - like regular couscous - is a small pasta. However, the process of being lightly toasted, lends it a pleasing, nutty flavour.

Like any pasta salad, you can do anything you like with it. I like to dress mine simply with a lemon/mustard vinaigrette and toss with finely chopped raw vegetables. For some reason, I've found this is a dish you can sneak cilantro into and people who might normally balk at this most divisive of herbs immediately go "what is that", searching for the source of their delight.

My being always late to the party, this is a summertime picnic/pot-luck trick to stick up your sleeve, one that always generates a bit of talk without getting too demanding on the cook.

I recently made a batch for a Sunday afternoon potluck where the hosts grilled up some delicious salmon and chicken. I won't give a recipe - it's so versatile you really can't go wrong. Except to say, I diced as finely as my patience would allow some peppers of different colours, some carrots, and some red onions, and then tossed in some parsley. I then made a Dijon mustard vinaigrette spiked with fresh lemon juice and tossed it up. This is a basic as you can get folks. Try it with sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and olives with a oregano-lemon vinaigrette. Cook the couscous in red wine and beet juice and you'll have these gorgeous, ruby red pearls just waiting to be tossed with a pungent white cheese and some beautiful green herbs - looks amazing on a plate. You can toss the couscous in green pesto and serve at room temperature with some grilled vegetables on top. Anyway you do it, just make sure that you don't overcook the couscous and ALWAYS make extra - your guests will want to take some home and it goes great in a packed lunch the next day.

You won't find Israeli Couscous at every market but here in the Hamilton area, I find it fairly readily at the Denninger's chain and our local health food stores (Goodness Me). Just poke around, it's not that hard to find, although it can be expensive relative to regular pasta. I guarantee no-one else at your next potluck will have ever experienced it and for such a simple dish it can really get people talking about food, at which point you can begin to knowledgeably extol the virtues of fried sweetbreads and pickled kangaroo penis. Enjoy!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Other people look for porn, I look for pizza.

It's almost 1 in the morning and I'm drinkin' a beer. I'm a man. Got Randy Bachman's CBC show on the radio - he's playing Eddie Cochran, God bless him - and a container of BBQ pork beckoning me to the fridge. And yet, I cannot move. The Internet has me transfixed to........ what? Girl on girl action? Steamy amateur lovin'? A sheep dressed in PVC whipping a turtle?

No, pizza.

Oh I have dreams, you know. One day I'd like to own a house - not so much for any other reason than to make and cure my own Italian cold cuts in the cellar. And I HAVE to have one of those brick ovens in the backyard, Jamie Oliver style. I'd make pizza dough everyday and basically just survive on pizza. Crack an egg on it, add some ham, bake it off = breakfast. Leftovers on dough = lunch. Some of my cured meats with a crumble of buffalo mozzarella and - hey what the hell - a veggie or two = dinner. For a change I'd make a nice calzone every once in a while.

But until those dreams come true, I look online for encouraging signs that the universe is in its pomp and that the stars are aligned just so, and I offer exhibit A.1:

Now, this is my kind of manifesto. First, these devilish Michigan bastards put paid to the nancypants idea of a "small" pizza. Then they laugh at the "rabbit food" like qualities of their competitors' MEATS! They had me at "to call it meat is worse than an exaggeration, it's lying."

Well, wipe the drool from my quivering lips and put a cloth over my hard-on..... if only this place had pictures of their wares, I'd be humping my computer screen and biting on a rag.

Like I said, somewhere - probably just down my apartment hall - some dude is witnessing something probably borderline illegal involving a Senator and a grade school "gifted" class but for me, it's all about the sweet, sweet 'za.

I'm pretty sure Mike is gonna regret giving me a spot on the Foodeeze blog.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Pumpkin Ravioli with Sage Butter

Since we received Sage, but no pumpkin in the last Bryson's organic delivery, we had to go out of our house and actually BUY pumpkin. We took a shortcut and bought pureed pumpkin, keeping sure not to purchase any spiced pumpkin meant for pie filling at halloween which also happens to be around the corner.

The ravioli were made with Gow Gee (wonton) wrappers that we had leftover from a night of dumplings a couple of weeks earlier. They keep forever in their sealed packet. They are essentially the same as the pasta that you would create for ravioli. Flour and water. The building blocks of all dumplings and pastas.

Since we didn't keep track of our own recipe for this, I found a similar recipe on the internets that takes it up a notch by adding flavour through carmelization. This is really simple and elegant.

Make as many as you want. These freeze and thaw VERY well for a quick meal.

for the ravioli

1 cup pumpkin or squash puree
1 cup ricotta cheese (use fresh if you've got it, otherwise drain the storebought cheese in cheesecloth for an hour)
1 Tbsp butter
2 tsp basalmic vinegar
1 Tbsp dark molasses
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
.25 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
wonton wrappers

for the sage sauce

4 Tbsp butter
6 diced sage leaves
4 large whole sage leaves, for garnish


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread squash puree on a baking sheet and place in oven to dry, 10-15 minutes. You want your puree to be at a mashed-potato consistency. Scrape into a large mixing bowl.

Heat 1 Tbsp butter in a small sautee pan over medium heat until it begins to brown. Remove from heat, swirl in basalmic vinegar and molasses. Add to the pumpkin along with the ricotta, Parmesan, and nutmeg. Season to taste with the salt and pepper, chill for a couple of hours. At this point the filling can be refrigerated for 1-2 days.

Lay out your wonton wrappers--I use wonton wrappers because I don't make pasta. If you make pasta, knock yourself out. Put a small mound (abut half a Tbsp.) of the chilled pumpkin filling in the center of a wonton. Using a small pastry brush, moisten all of the edges with a little cold water. Fold the wonton in half, firmly pressing the seam, forming either a triangle or a rectangle. Repeat until you run out of wrappers or filling. You can freeze these uncooked raviolis, in a single layer, for 1 month. Cook the raviolis in gently boiling water for 2 minutes.

While the raviolis are cooking, melt the remaining butter with the sage and a pinch of salt until it foams and begins to brown. Remove whole sage leaves and drain on a paper towel (they will be a crispy, pretty garnish). Continue to swirl the butter sauce until it turns a rich chestnut brown.

Now, you can either spoon the sacue over your raviolis in their serving bowls, or you can toss the ravioli in the butter before serving. Either way, serve with grated Parmesan cheese, a couple of fried sage leaves and a nice green salad. Enjoy!

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