If you’ve been paying attention to a guy named Michael Solomonov — the James Beard award-winning restaurant chef and owner of Zahav in Philadelphia — you already may be familiar with the nutty flavor and slight chew of Israeli couscous.
At his restaurant and in his cookbook, Solomonov serves the pearl-shaped granules in a variety of ways: cooked risotto-style with tomato to serve with fish, “stained” by carrot juice and saffron or combined with spicy kale and lemon to make salads.
While pantry ingredients like pomegranate molasses and zaa’tar may not make it into a regular meal rotation, Israeli couscous is an easy ingredient to work into a menu plan. It’s widely available in the health food or ethnic aisles of larger supermarkets. Similar to rice, the key to this larger format couscous is to steam it until it’s tender but not gummy.
Solomonov was born in Tel Aviv and grew up in Pennsylvania so his dishes combine Israeli cooking techniques with seasonal American ingredients. This Israeli couscous with roasted butternut squash pairs the semolina-wheat pasta with the flavors of fall: toasted pecans, pears and cranberries.
Preparation tips: Toasting the walnuts intensifies their flavor. To toast, spread the walnuts or pecans on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted.
Butternut squash cubes are often readily available, already peeled and cut in the produce section of large grocery stores. Alternately, you can cut the butternut squash. To make cutting easier, pierce the squash 3 or 4 times with a sharp knife. Microwave the squash on high (100 percent) power for 1 to 2 minutes; allow to stand and cool 3 minutes. Using a large, heavy knife, cut off stem. Peel using a vegetable peeler. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut the flesh into cubes.