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This is a classic Stacy recipe, from the first summer that Mike and I lived together. We ate a lot of couscous bowtie pilaf in those first few months, because along with tuna noodle, tofu stir fry, spaghetti, and the chicken marsala recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook, it was one of the only things that we knew how to cook. Mike looks upon those days with fondness, because we ate more meat and occasionally had taco dip for dinner; I look back and wonder how I managed to survive the monotony.
But we were starting to experiment, and this recipe began as an attempt to make what I recall was some sort of bulgur pilaf. At the time, I wasn’t sure what bulgur was or where to find it in the grocery store (now I know that bulgur is cracked wheat, and the best place to buy it is the bulk section at the co-op), so I decided for some vague reason to substitute couscous instead. Back then, couscous was a new and novel ingredient to me, but at least I could find in the ethnic foods aisle and it came in a box with some directions on the back.
Over the years, this recipe has gone through lots of variations, so feel free to improvise. A red bell pepper will taste best, but I use whatever I have on hand (this week, it was a green one from our CSA). If you don’t have a bell pepper, you can use sliced zucchini. I prefer to use butter for cooking the vegetables and olive oil for preparing the couscous, since to me mushrooms cooked in olive oil never taste quite right, while on the other hand couscous cries out for olive oil. However, you could exclusively use one or the other, or leave out the olive oil in the couscous altogether. I prepare the couscous in chicken broth for the added flavor, but you could use vegetable broth or water to make it truly vegetarian.
We don’t eat couscous bowtie pilaf nearly as often now, just a few times in the summer when we get bell peppers from our CSA and once in a while during the winter when the grocery store bell peppers from Mexico are on sale. But whenever I do make it, it's like pulling on an old hooded sweatshirt from my college days—maybe I wouldn’t wear it out of the house anymore, but it’s still really nice to have around.
- 1 cup uncooked farfalle (bowtie) pasta
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 bell pepper, cut into 3/4 inch pieces (preferably red, but green, yellow, or orange will work too)
- 1 cup roughly chopped onion
- 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
- 1 2/3 cups dry couscous
- ½ cup chopped parsley
Prepare pasta according to package directions.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add bell pepper, onion, mushrooms, salt, and pepper and cook until the bell pepper and onion are crisp-tender and the mushrooms have softened, about 15 minutes.
While the vegetable mixture is cooking, combine broth or water with olive oil (if desired) in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly stir in the couscous, cover saucepan, and remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes and then lightly fluff.
Combine pasta, vegetable mixture, couscous, and parsley in a large bowl and gently toss to combine.