In truth, I believe you can never eat too much pasta. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about pasta as a side, the accompaniment rather than the main course. One easy way I do this is to think of “pasta with vegetables” as “vegetables with pasta,” changing the proportions so my final dish isn’t totally carb focused. I do this especially when the pasta will be my lunch and I don’t want to spend the afternoon in a food coma.
This dish, which is a cross between a couscous salad and, well, mac and cheese, is a perfect side for steak, chicken, or tofu.
Israeli couscous is made from wheat, like the teeny tiny couscous I’m used to eating. According to Claudia Roden, families in North Africa used to grind their wheat to their preferred coarseness, so there was a range of textures and appearances among couscous dishes. Now “Israeli couscous” seems to stand for a coarser-grained couscous that holds up well to soups, stews, and–as I discovered when I improvised this dish–cheese, broccoli, and herbs. It’s as good beside some protein and a salad, in place of mashed potatoes or bread, as it is packed for lunch the next day. I’ve also included a tip for making this cheesy, creamy side dish as a casserole, which means it’s easy to make in advance.
Broccoli & Parmesan Israeli Couscous
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main/brown bag lunch
If you want to make this in advance for a dinner party, you could transfer the finished dish to a buttered baking dish the night before. Sprinkle with cheese and bake at 400°F for 15 to 20 minutes, until bubbling.
1 cup Israeli couscous
2 1/2 cups broccoli (from one small head, you can use both florets and most of the stem)
1 tablespoon butter
1 shallot, chopped
1 cup milk – I used 2% but works fine with skim
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup grated Parmesan and Pecorino, or just Parmesan
1 clove garlic, minced with 1/4 teaspoon salt until it becomes like a paste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, plus extra for garnish
Bring a pot of water to boil. Add a generous bunch of salt and the couscous. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes, until just tender, then drain in a mesh strainer.
Place the broccoli in a sauté pan with a lid (you can always improvise the lid situation, or use foil) with 1/3 cup of water: bring to a boil over high heat, cover the pot, then lower the heat, cover the pan, and cook for 10 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure there’s still water in the bottom of the pan. If there’s not, add in a little bit. Transfer to a bowl to let cool slightly. Chop into small pieces.
While the broccoli is cooling, wipe out the pan with a clean dish towel. Set over medium heat and add the butter and the shallot. Cook until the shalot is softened, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and cook until it’s fully incorporated, about 1 minute. Slowly pour in the milk, stirring as you go to avoid clumps in the flour. Keep cooking, stirring, until the mixture has bubbled and thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir in the salt, a few grinds of black pepper, most of the grated cheese, the minced garlic, and the herbs. Cook for 1 minute, to let the cheese melt, then add back in all the chopped broccoli. Add the drained Israeli couscous, stir together, and then transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the reserved cheese and herbs.