Today’s photo, dish, and recipe come from special guest chef and photographer Patrick White, also from our vacation with our dear friends Allyson and Patrick. While Allyson, Wayne and I were frolicking in the ocean, Patrick was back at the condo producing this masterpiece.
Note the pearls of Israeli couscous, known in Israel as ptitim, a larger version of familiar couscous, and for us, the result of a fortuitous internet grocery shopping error.
Most couscous found in supermarkets is the instant variety, which is precooked, changing the texture, and often comes pre-flavored. The chef requested the non-instant version and the only product Allyson had found online that seemed to fit the bill was toasted Israeli couscous, which ended up lending the dish a wonderful chewy texture.
I should admit here that when I heard the plan to make lasagna out of couscous I was skeptical. Maybe I’ve had too many bad couscous experiences with flavorless, sticky or teeth-threateningly crunchy results. I also couldn’t imagine what would happen when cheese and the pasta-grains came together. But Patrick’s dishes always seem to come out wonderful and they’d picked out this veggie dish especially for me so I wasn’t about to express any doubts.
The result, when we’d returned from walking on the beach (and I’d kept with my vacation tradition of gaining new and ridiculous looking tan lines), was my favorite lasagna ever. The large couscous make the dish lighter than traditional lasagna, so perfect for warm weather. It doesn’t hold together like its conventional counterpart, but it is still pretty on the plate with all the veggie colors and little pearls spilling out. Plus, the flavor is outstanding.
Couscous Veggie Lasagna
Recipe is Patrick’s adaptation from Kim Rizk’s Hay Day Country Market Cookbook (1998).
- 1 1/2 c water
- 1 1/4 c couscous
- 1 oz sun-dried tomatoes (oil packed), finely chopped
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 oz cremini (white) mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1 zucchini, in 1/4 inch dice
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 yellow pepper, diced
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 c dry white wine
- 2 T chopped fresh basil
- black pepper
- 8 oz fontina cheese, shredded
- 1/2 freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Boil water and add couscous and sun-dried tomatoes and cover, following package directions for couscous.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil or spray an 11×7 baking dish
3. Saute onion in oil about 5 minutes. Add garlic, mushrooms, zucchini and peppers and salt until all veggies are fork-tender.
4. Add tomatoes, wine and basil to veggies. Simmer, cover and cook 10 minutes. Season to taste and remove from heat.
5. Fluff couscous and break apart clumps with a fork. Transfer to a large bowl and chill the couscous. (Patrick’s note: fontina cheese has a low melting point so mixing the cheese with hot couscous as directed in the original recipe “was not pretty.”) When the couscous has cooled, mix in cheeses, tossing quickly until all are combined well.
6. Layer couscous and veggies in casserole: couscous first in a thin bottom layer, then veggies (using a slotted spoon and reserving the liquid for step 7), then couscous, then strained veggies. (Reserve some veggies for step 7.) Top with additional parmesan cheese.
7. Patrick’s MAX-FLAVOR step: The veggies, when cooked as recommended, should leave behind lots of veggie juices in the pan. If you pour them over the lasagna, they will pool in the bottom of the baking pan and make a useless mush. Instead, pour them in a blender with 1/2 cup to 1 cup of cooked veggies and sun-dried tomatoes. Blend on “puree” until smooth. Add as a sauce to the top of the finished lasagna before putting it in the oven. This really improves the flavor profile of the dish. (And is a good hint to use anytime you have lots of tasty juice left over). Careful: don’t do this step with very hot veggies, or they might steam up and cause a blender Kitchsplosion! Let them cool off the heat a few minutes (while you assemble the lasagna should be fine).
8. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake 30-35 minutes until thoroughly heated through.
9. Cool 5 minutes, slice and serve to awestruck guests.