Lemon-Fennel Israeli Couscous Risotto
Risotto is one of my favorite things in the world to make. It’s one of those dishes that has endless permutations. It can take on any flavors you desire, can be simplified as a side dish, beefed up for a main, and is always creamy and satisfying. I can get a bit heavy-handed with my risottos (a jumbo lump crab and smoked mozzarella iteration comes to mind…), so I wanted to create a slightly lighter dish here.
Israeli couscous is a tiny, pearl-shaped pasta that was created during a period in Israel when rice was scarce. It has a slightly toothsome texture when cooked and a nutty flavor. Because of its small size, it cooks up a lot quicker than most pastas. That’s why I decided to use it here – instead of 30 plus minutes of constant stirring, you get a similarly delicious dish in about 15 minutes from start to finish. You definitely still want to stir to develop the creamy texture, but it requires a lot less maintenance and time than traditional risotto.
When thinking about this dish, my mind immediately went to fennel since it’s in season. Paired with bright lemon zest and a bit of juice, the result is a much lighter and fresher risotto than I typically make. I cooked up a simply seared piece of fish, and it worked perfectly with the light and creamy, lemon-y couscous “risotto”. Enjoy!
4 tbsps unsalted butter
2 small shallots, medium dice (2/3 cup)
½ medium fennel bulb, medium dice (2/3 cup)
3 or 4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups toasted Israeli Couscous
1/3 cup white wine
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp lemon zest
finely chopped parsley, chives, and/or cilantro to finish
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat a nonstick sauté pan over medium heat and bring the stock in a separate saucepan up to a boil. Add 3 tablespoons of butter, and when foam subsides, add diced shallots and fennel and a pinch of salt to draw out the moisture. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes stirring often until vegetables have softened. Add garlic cloves and cook for 30 seconds to a minute until fragrant.
Add couscous and cook for a minute stirring to coat with the fat. Add white wine and reduce completely. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add boiling stock in increments of one cup or so, stirring often. Repeat until all stock has been incorporated and couscous has cooked for about 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Stir in lemon juice and lemon zest. Taste couscous and add salt and pepper as needed. Add remaining tablespoon of butter and chopped herbs. Serve immediately.