Israeli couscous may be Israeli, but it’s definitely not couscous. Couscous is ground semolina (crucially without being mixed with either egg or water) rubbed together with wet hands until tiny granules form and are then dried. Israeli couscous, on the other hand, is tiny balls (about the size of larger peppercorns) of true pasta made from both wheat flour and semolina then toasted.
Asparagus is a natural mate to Israeli couscous. Its brightness and astringency pairs well with the earthiness of the pasta. Tomato confit completes the picture by bringing sweetness, acidity, and color to the dish.
by Michael Aaron Gardiner
In a medium heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the Israeli couscous, season with salt, and cook until most of the couscous is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add 2 cups of the vegetable stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the stock is fully absorbed and the couscous is tender, about 10 minutes, adding more broth by the tablespoonful if the couscous is not yet tender.
Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil in a large sauce-pan. Prepare an ice bath. When the water boils, add the asparagus segments and blanch until their color brightens, 3 to 4 minutes depending on the thickness of the asparagus. Remove the asparagus from the water and shock in the ice bath to fix the color. Drain and pat with paper towels to remove excess water.
Toss the asparagus with the couscous and divide into four bowls. Top each bowl with 1 tablespoon of the tomato confit and drizzle with as much as a teaspoon of oil from the confit (depending on how saucy the confit is).
Confits are, traditionally, any type of food cooked slowly over a long period of time for the purpose of preservation. But they’ve long since gone past that original purpose and have become a method of intensifying flavor. Take, for example, this cherry tomato confit. The little red jewels suspended in olive oil burst with flavor and are keys to dishes like the Israeli Couscous with Asparagus and Tomato Confit. Slicing the garlic cloves both lends a richer, rounder flavor than minced garlic and leaves you with the delicious slices, which turn into soft, golden petals from their long bath in the olive oil.
Make 3 cups
Combine the cherry tomatoes, garlic, and oil in a small saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until the tomatoes just start to split, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a glass quart jar and refrigerate. The tomato confit will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
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Excerpted from Modern Kosher by Michael Aaron Gardiner. Copyright 2020 Rizzoli New York. Photography by Sam Wells.