When I first moved to Rhode Island, potluck ruled. It seemed like every weekend was another potluck occasion, and the pressure to come up with new dishes was intense (and entirely self-inflicted).
In our first full summer here, Ted and I offered to host a party for our local arts organization. We figured it would be a good way to meet people, so we sent out invitations and I started cooking for a huge buffet dinner that we planned to serve outside under the pear trees. The invitation asked everyone to bring a beverage to share — and their favorite bug spray. No potluck. Well, this caused a stir in our little community! No potluck? Indeed!
A few years later I learned how to turn grandanina couscous into a perfect potluck dish, and now it's always in my pantry.
Grandanina is a medium-size coarse ground couscous with a nutty flavor, made of durum wheat. Couscous often is called pasta, as it's made from the same ingredients, and in this dish you can substitute orzo, a small torpedo-shaped pasta, or Israeli couscous, which is a slightly larger grain, the size of tapioca pearls. I buy grandanina couscous at The Gourmet Outlet in New Bedford (Massachusetts), the retail arm of Sid Wainer & Son, wholesale purveyor of fine foods to restaurants, airlines, hotels and corporations all over the US.
Couscous originated in North Africa, and is prevalent throughout the cooking of Mediterranean cultures, often as a base for stews. So it's particularly appropriate that this recipe uses both apricots and orange, which are also cultivated throughout the hot climates of North Africa. I've brought this dish to many a potluck, but I also use grandanina as a thickener in soups, a base for stews, and in hearty salads.
Vegetarian couscous with dried fruit
This colorful and healthy recipe from chef John Verrier at Sid Wainer & Son serves 6 as an accompaniment to grilled chicken, fish or pork. One year for Thanksgiving, I bought a boneless turkey breast and stuffed it with this couscous, then glazed the outside of the turkey with pomegranate molasses. It looked like a giant football, but it tasted amazing.
2 cups Grandanina pasta or Israeli couscous
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 red onion, cut in half and sliced very thin
1 green pepper, diced
1/2 cup each dried apricots and dried cranberries, diced
8 oz orange juice
In a medium stock pot, cook couscous in water according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
While the couscous is cooking, heat the olive oil in a small frying pan. Saute the garlic, red onion and green pepper until the onions are soft, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Put in a serving bowl. Add dried fruit. Add the cooked, drained couscous. Pour in the orange juice, and keep stirring until thoroughly mixed and the liquid is completely absorbed. Serve warm or room temperature.
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