Classic risotto is made with starchy medium-grain Italian rice, such as Arborio or carnaroli. It is toasted then cooked, sometimes slowly, over low heat as broth is ladled into the pan in stages. While the liquid absorbs, the cook stirs, stirs and keeps stirring.
This “risotto,” from our book “COOKish,” which limits recipes to just six ingredients without sacrificing flavor, uses pearl couscous (which actually is a pasta) and higher heat to produce “grains” with a rich, creamy consistency.
Much as with rice, stirring releases starch from the couscous that thickens into a creamy sauce, and the “risotto” finishes in the time it takes to cook pasta.
The wheaty flavor of pearl couscous (sometimes called Israeli couscous or ptitim) is a perfect match for grassy, subtly sweet asparagus and the salty, nutty flavor of Parmesan cheese.
We reserve the asparagus stalk and tip pieces separately; they’re added at different times because they cook at slightly different rates. Don’t use especially thick or particularly slender asparagus for this recipe; pencil-sized spears will be perfectly tender when the couscous is done.
PEARL COUSCOUS ‘RISOTTO’ WITH ASPARAGUS
Start to finish: 30 minutes
4 tablespoons (½ stick) salted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup pearl couscous
⅓ cup dry white wine
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into ½-inch pieces; reserve the stalks and tips separately
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (½ cup), plus more to serve
½ cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus more to serve
In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper, then cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add the couscous and cook, stirring often, until it begins to brown.
Pour in the wine and cook, stirring, until the pan is almost dry, about 1 minute. Add 3 cups water and ½ teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in the asparagus stalks and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, then stir in the asparagus tips. Continue to cook, stirring, until almost all the liquid has been absorbed and the asparagus is tender, about another 2 minutes.
Off heat, add the Parmesan, parsley and remaining 1 tablespoon butter, then stir until the butter melts. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with additional Parmesan and parsley.