Couscous is a traditional Berber (North African) dish of semolina (granules of durum wheat) which is cooked by steaming. It is traditionally served with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. Couscous is made from two different sizes of husked, crushed and unground semolina. Semolina is the hard part of the grain that resists grinding. When hard wheat is ground, the endosperm—the floury part of the grain—is cracked into two parts, the surrounding part with its proteins, minerals and central floury mass, also called the endosperm, contains the gluten protein that gives hard wheat its unique properties for making couscous and pasta.
In the province of Trapani, Sicily, it’s practically a staple and if you take a look at a map you’ll see why. Trapani is actually closer to Tunisia than it is to the Italian peninsula. Centuries ago, Sicily, North Africa and the Middle East were just one big granary supplying ancient Rome. Bartolomeo Scappi’s culinary guide of 1570 describes a Moorish dish, succussu, that is made in Tuscany to illustrate how far north the grain traveled. Traditional Italian couscous is the result of the country’s unique geographic position at the center of the Mediterranean, an ideal place for cultural and culinary exchange dating back to the dawn of civilisation in the area. There is even a festival dedicated to the local specialty in the Sicilian town of San Vito Lo Capo. Couscous was introduced to the Italian palate long ago but its popularity is currently booming due to its easy preparation, versatility in the kitchen and reputation as a healthy alternative to other traditional pastas.
Couscous is a staple food throughout the North African cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya. In many Italian regions couscous is served with fish. It is featured as a traditional Italian food product that is officially recognized by the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies. Use of couscous has become so widespread that some Italian food companies have even begun to launch cook and serve product lines to satisfy consumer demand. Chewy Italian couscous, also called freula, is a Sardinian-style toasted semolina pasta. It comes in small, medium and large grains and is available at specialty food stores.
Italian Couscous with Parmesan and Herbs
Use this recipe as a basis for some of the recipes below.
- 1 pound medium-grain Italian couscous (about 2 1/2 cups) (Or any medium to large-grained couscous)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the Italian couscous and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender but still chewy, about 20 minutes. Drain well and return the Italian couscous to the pot. Add the butter and Parmesan cheese and stir over low heat until melted. Add the parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Pesto Chicken Over Italian Couscous
- 1 pound bone on chicken thighs, skin and fat removed
- 1/2 cup homemade or store-bought pesto sauce
- 2 cups hot prepared Italian Couscous with Parmesan and Herbs, recipe above
- 1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
Place chicken thighs and pesto into a large ziplock bag, seal and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, longer if possible.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place chicken thighs into a large baking dish that has been sprayed with olive oil cooking spray.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. (Meat thermometer should read 165 degrees F)
To serve, place couscous onto a serving plate and top with chicken and any drippings from the baking dish. Makes 4 servings.
Italian Vegetable Stew
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 cups homemade or store-bought Marinara Sauce
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 recipe from above for prepared Italian Couscous with Parmesan and Herbs
Heat olive oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat and cook garlic, zucchini, eggplant, onion, salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in Marinara sauce and cheese. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare couscous according to directions above. Serve vegetable mixture over hot couscous.
Italian Seafood Kabobs
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 shallots, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 lb raw shrimp (25 count)
- 1 lb monkfish, grouper or other solid fish fillets (without bones)
- 1 lb squid, cleaned
- 1 lemon for garnish
- 1 recipe prepared Italian Couscous with Parmesan and Herbs from above
This recipe makes 12 skewers, each approximately 10 inches long. If using bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them in water for 30 minutes to prevent burning.
Peel and devein shrimp. Cut monkfish into cubes. Cut squid into wide rings.
In a large bowl combine the garlic with the next six ingredients. Add the fish and mix until evenly coated. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Thread shrimp, fish and squid rings onto the skewers. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Heat an outdoor grill or a stove top grill to medium high. Oil the grill. Place the skewers on the grill. Grill kabobs directly over the heat source for about 10 minutes, turning 1/4 rotation every 2 to 3 minutes or until the fish is fully cooked.
Serve skewers over the prepared couscous with lemon quarters on the side.
Savory Baked Couscous
Serve this recipe as a side dish with grilled meat.
- 1 cup medium Italian couscous
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
- 4 green onions, sliced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Stir couscous into boiling salted water and return water to a boil. Add the Italian couscous and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender but still chewy, about 20 minutes. Drain.
While the couscous is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Stir in garlic, green onions and peppers; saute briefly; then stir in tomatoes, basil, cooked couscous, salt and pepper.
Mix together and transfer to an oiled 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Splash the balsamic vinegar on top.
Bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese while still warm.
Italian Couscous, Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
- 2 cups fresh cherry tomatoes
- 1 (8 ounce) container small fresh mozzarella cheese balls
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 garlic clove, crushed and minced
- 8 ounces medium Italian couscous
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- Arugula or whole basil leaves for garnish
Halve cherry tomatoes.
In a large bowl combine the tomato, mozzarella, olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic, toss well then refrigerate, covered, to marinate for 30 minutes.
Cook couscous according to the directions above. Drain. Cool.
Toss couscous and basil with tomato and mozzarella mixture. Garnish with arugula or whole basil leaves and serve.
- Pumpkin served with Couscous (theculinaryjourneymadesimple.wordpress.com)
- Couscous (yaseminscuisine.wordpress.com)
- Greek couscous salad recipe (mirrorofyourhealth.wordpress.com)
- Curried Couscous (lele13mohamed.wordpress.com)
- Pesto Couscous (passtheyum.wordpress.com)
April 28, 2014 at 9:49 am
Love that first photo and it’s hearty-looking colors! I haven’t had couscous in ages and I’d love to try that type.
April 28, 2014 at 10:09 am
Thanks Patty. If you cannot find Italian couscous, you can substitute Israeli couscous and there are also a number of online stores that sell it. Your best bet is if you have an Italian store in your town. I like it better than regular couscous because it has a little more substance and taste to it.
April 28, 2014 at 10:47 am
I love couscous – great recipes!
April 28, 2014 at 10:48 am
I am glad you like them Pam
April 28, 2014 at 12:50 pm
Love the addition of couscous to tomatoes and mozzarella in salad!
April 28, 2014 at 2:49 pm
Thanks Karen. It makes a very good salad.
April 29, 2014 at 12:34 pm
It makes a great salad.
April 29, 2014 at 12:55 pm
Oh yes, especially with lots of flavorful additions.
April 28, 2014 at 9:09 pm
We recently got couscous, and my wife has been asking me for ideas as to what to do with it. I am so glad you posted this. I forwarded your blog on to her and she loves it. Thanks for sharing.
April 28, 2014 at 9:14 pm
Thank you for letting me know and for taking time to comment. I am so glad you found some recipes you may like to make.
April 29, 2014 at 8:46 am
Never occurred to me there is an Italian couscous, but I certainly love the recipes you have here. We love couscous, especially the larger grain, so chewy and delicious. Thank you for sharing these ideas!
April 29, 2014 at 8:54 am
Yes you can use that type of couscous in these recipes. I think it is often referred to as Israeli couscous. You can use any type of couscous in these recipes – just follow the package directions for cooking as opposed to the ones above.
April 29, 2014 at 10:45 am
Great recipes. I really love couscous but sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine it as more than a side dish. I like the idea of the seafood kebabs!
April 29, 2014 at 10:47 am
I agree Amanda. I prefer it as a base for other ingredients.
April 30, 2014 at 11:24 am
I first tasted cous cous in Paris in 1983 in a North African restaurant and it didn’t grab me so I didn’t eat it for ages afterwards. I then remembered that it was the mutton stew that it was served with that I didn’t care for. Once that was settled I’ve loved it since.
April 30, 2014 at 11:45 am
I love your story. I would not have liked mutton stew on my couscous either.
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