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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Tale of Couscous and Farm Markets

Ms. Jane Snow, former food writer of the Akron Beacon Journal, very kindly asked me if I would like to do a cooking demo at a local farmer's market.  I was a little stunned to be asked quite honestly.  As with most things I quietly stay on my little corner of the internet, mind my own business and enjoy some feedback on my dishes/blogs from time to time.  This seemed a bit out of my comfort zone... talking in front of people and explaining a dish.  But she was persuasive and I eventually gave in.  My day to cook was to be June 13.  I needed to come up with a dish that would utilize what the market had to offer.  So I grabbed my friend Andi and we headed to the market a week before demo day to see the lay of the land, get a feel for what I'd be doing and find a vendor who would be able to provide the produce I needed.

Copley Creekside Farmer's Market is a smaller but really nice market.  This time of year there are a limited number of vendors, but as the season goes on, more will be added.

We took a walk around and I found a vendor that had asparagus and spring onions and that is what I had been thinking about making with an Israeli (or pearl) couscous.  I ended up stopping and chatting with Ralph DeSimone from DeSimone's Produce and Bakery in Litchfield.  I told him I'd be the guest "chef" the next week and would he have the asparagus and spring onions again next week so I can get them for my demo.  He said he would and asked what I'd be making.  So to say I hit it off with Ralph immediately would be a fair assessment I think.  He had no problem razzing me about how I, an Italian, was making Israeli couscous!  Funny guy you are Ralph!  I had to remind him that Israeli couscous/pearl couscous is pretty much what is used in Italian Wedding Soup and is in fact, a pasta. I think he forgave my couscous indiscretion after that :)

My plan was to make the couscous at home, but prepare everything else at the market.  I would have a burner, pans, general items like salt, pepper and olive oil, utensils and stuff to serve the finished dish in for samples all provided.  Jane had told me she always brings her own knife so I followed that advice.  I also brought my own kosher salt, thinking that the salt provided was probably table salt (I was right).

The morning of the demo I made way too much couscous at home and watched the dark clouds roll in.  Oh please, please clear up by 3 pm!!! And *sigh of relief* it did clear up.  It turned out to be quite a beautiful day.

Nick took half a day off to help me out and that was a big help.  We got to the market, checked in with the folks in charge and headed to our tent to set up.

Market dude Roger came by to see what I needed and after realizing there had been a miscommunication (he thought I needed electricity for a crock pot... the horror!), he went and got me a gas burner.  And what a cute gadgety gas burner it was!  It even had a little barrier around it so the wind wouldn't blow out the flame.  That came in very handy because the wind was absolutely insane that day.  It was so bad that several vendors ended up taking down their tents because they were blowing all over the place.

Now it was time to get a cookin!   My sous chef Jane went and got me my produce and I got the burner going and ready to cook.  I had a little washing station so I could rinse off the veg and then got to chopping.

Asparagus, spring onions (scallions) in some olive oil with salt and pepper.  This was the first batch.  Ralph had snuck in some garlic scapes, much to my joy, but I was going to sneak those home.  Alas, I I didn't... I used them in the second batch and it was even better than the first!   But I'm ahead of myself here.   I sauteed the asparagus and onions until they were cooked through then added the couscous and sauteed it all together.  Using broth as needed so the pan didn't get too dry.

If you've never had Israeli or pearl couscous, I really urge you to try it.  It has such a nice texture to it, it's easy as can be to make (only takes about 10 minutes) and it's very inexpensive (I buy Bob's Red Mill tricolor pearl couscous at Marc's for $2.50 a bag).   The package says to cook it in water, but I always cook it in broth.  It just adds another layer of flavor.  So once the whole concoction is heated through it was time to start serving.  People came by off and on, and everyone who tried it really seemed to like it, even Ralph!  I had a lot of fun and would definitely do something like this again if asked (unless it's like 90 degrees or something, then I'm out!).

So without further ado, here is my recipe for the Asparagus and Spring Onion Couscous

Asparagus Couscous
1 bunch (1 lb) asparagus (trimmed and chopped into 1 inch pieces)
6 spring onions (or scallions), chopped
1 t. Kosher salt
2 T olive oil
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

1 cup uncooked Israeli Couscous cooked per package instructions but change out the water for chicken broth
Heat 2 T olive oil in a saute pan and add asparagus.  Sprinkle with 1/2 t salt and saute for about 2 minutes on high.  Turn heat down to medium and add 1/2 cup chicken broth and cook until about half the broth is cooked down and asparagus is starting to get tender.  Add the spring onions and the second 1/2 t salt.  Turn up to medium high and cook/saute onions and asparagus for about 10 minutes.  Add more broth or a little more olive oil if pan starts to get too dry.
Add cooked couscous to the pan and saute together for about a minute. Stir in parsley.   Serve.

I ended up having a lot of extra couscous after making two batches of this dish so I made a couscous salad out of it.  And if I do say so myself, it is pretty damn good!

Couscous Salad

1 cup uncooked Israeli Couscous cooked per package instructions but change out the water for chicken broth
1 medium sized zucchini, chopped
3 spring onions, chopped
1/2 cup olives, chopped (I used regular black olives but kalamata's would be so much better!)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (or more if you like!)
1/4 cup of fresh mint, chopped

Cool couscous completely after cooking.  You may want to sprinkle it with a little olive oil and stir so it doesn't all stick together.  The zucchini and the onions remain raw, you don't need to cook them at all.  Then just put all your chopped ingredients together with the cooled couscous in a big bowl and stir it together with your favorite dressing.  Mine is 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, about a teaspoon (give or take) of kosher salt and a good heavy Tablespoon of honey.  Whisk all dressing ingredients together and pour over salad, stir and refrigerate for a few hours.  Stir it occasionally.  When you take it out to serve, if the olive oil has solidified some (which it tends to do when refrigerated, bring salad to room temp before serving.  No one wants to eat chunks of olive oil!). 



sue greene said...

When you make it into a salad with the zuchinni, do you have to cook it the vegies first? This looks so delish....would artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers work as well?

Kathy Carano said...

Hey Sue :)

The veggies in the salad are raw. And yes, artichokes and red pepper sounds fab!