Couscous – Italian?? Really? Yes and yes! In Sicily, it is called Cuscusu. This SICILIAN COUSCOUS SALAD is certainly something you may find in Sicily. You will definitely find it on the Northern coast in Trapani where they often serve it with assorted fish. How does this happen? In my cooking classes, we talk quite a bit about the influences of history and conquerors of old putting their stamp on ingredients and recipes. Take a little trip back in time with me.
The island of Sicily had the fortune or misfortune, depending on your point of view, of being the “main dish” on the table of battle for centuries dating back to ancient times for many of its surrounding land hungry neighbors. These included the Greeks – evidenced in Agrigento in the Valley of the Temples, with the remains of “Acropolis-like” structures, built and left by ancient conquering hordes.
The Romans put in their two cents as well. Then along came the Arabs of North Africa from 827-1061. With them came a tremendous influence in food and ingredients. The Arabs brought berries, apricots, almonds, spices, pistachios, rice, and sugar among other food items which became staples on the island. One of the dishes that became a part of the cuisine of Sicily under the occupation of the Arab conquerors was couscous. It is a popular ingredient even today – from the tiny kernel type to the larger pearl variety.
Ingredients: This SICILIAN COUSCOUS SALAD is a beautiful reflection of the Sicilian adoption of the ingredient, couscous. It is a lovely representation of the healthy recipes of the Mediterranean Diet.The large pearl or Israeli couscous is perfect for it. In Sicily, it is sometimes called “fregola”. It cooks quickly and is easy to work with.
The greens used are “mache” or “mache rosettes – also referenced as “lamb’s lettuce”. This is a beautiful sweet and somewhat nutty lettuce. You may fall in love with it, as I have. Guests always ask what it is and love its tender sweetness. Another reason to love it is that it is beautiful to serve. The rosettes look like flowers on the plate. OK – so it’s French! In fact, it has been used and grown in France since the 17th century. No matter where it is from – it is a lovely lettuce. You must try it!
I like a touch of sweetness in the ingredients for this salad – thus the mango and some insanely good ginger honey beets. You can find the baby ones already prepared at Whole Foods sold in packages. If you don’t have access to these – Make your own! Peel some small beets and drizzle them with olive oil, honey and throw in some candied ginger pieces or slices of fresh ginger. Close them up in a foil packet and roast them for about 50 minutes in a 450 oven. Let them sit a few minutes and then open the packet. You can make them ahead and refrigerate them.
Goat cheese provides some savory and the toasted pignoli are such a Sicilian delight and add a nutty crunch. Just before serving, you will add a drizzle of a Balsamic reduction or glaze. If you have Saba – a wonderful reduced form of Balsamico – this would be just perfect!
This is simply a gorgeous salad to serve in warmer months – sooo fresh tasting. It reminds me of the Mediterranean breezes present on the island of Sicily during this time of year.
SICILIAN COUSCOUS SALAD
Serves: about 4
Prep: 30 minutes
1 Cup uncooked Pearl or Israeli Couscous
1 Cup Chopped Fresh Mango
1/4 C. Basil
Drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Drizzle of Wine Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 C. toasted pignoli (pine nuts)
Large handful of Mache or Mache Rosettes (or other tender sweet greens)
3 oz. Goat Cheese
Small Ginger Honey Beets – if using tiny ones – about 2 per person (See instructions above for making your own!)
Balsamic Vinegar or Balsamic Reduction or Balsamic Glaze – if you have Saba – this is the time to use it!
Fresh cut chives and/or Chive Flowers
Cook the couscous – usually 1 C. couscous to 1 /4 C. Water – Bring to Boil – Cover and Simmer about 10 minutes. Strain if needed when done.
Chop the Mango and Basil and add to the couscous along with the Oil and Vinegar, Salt and pepper.
Add the pignoli and gently mix together.
Set aside or refrigerate. You can make this early in the day.
When ready to serve – Place some mache on each plate. Spoon some of the couscous mixture on top .
Just before serving, add some goat cheese and beet pieces to each plate.
Drizzle lightly with a little Balsamic glaze or Saba for a touch of added sweetness. Sprinkle with chives – Serve!
Try this SICILIAN COUSCOUS SALAD as a side, a first course, or a simple salad. A guaranteed hit out of the park! (Ahhh the baseball references!)
PARLA COME MANGI!
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