Best served at room temperature, even better al fresco – this is a vibrant green and wholesome celebration of the much too short asparagus season.
Make the most of asparagus season
When the painfully short asparagus season starts, I eat it practically every day. Apart from the taste and nutritional values, I appreciate the olfactory perks available to half the world’s population though not everyone finds them pleasing.
Fresh asparagus is the most gracious beast: treat it gently, handle it quickly, cook it even faster and the feast is ready.
Boil the spears for three minutes, then roll in melting butter. Steam them for five minutes and shower with grated Parmesan. Grill them with almonds or wrap them in filo pastry. Turn them into risotto or add to pasta.
As long as you don’t overcook the vegetable and turn it into miserable, limp and soggy mess, they’ll be gorgeous.
Asparagus, nuts and grains
Nuts go well with asparagus, be it toasted almond flakes or whole hazelnuts. I find the idea of green raw pistachio kernels in conjunction with green asparagus particularly appealing. With a lot of fresh herbs, they make a great dish on the canvas of bland but flavour-absorbing couscous.
Whole-wheat couscous is richer in fibre than the refined variety, and it has this gritty quality to it which I like a lot.
Couscous is less calorific than rice or quinoa, which is good news, but don’t forget it actually is pasta, not natural grain. It’s made from ground durum wheat, tossed and rolled until it clumps into tiny granules.
How to prepare couscous?
Cooking couscous is the easiest process of all grain or pasta preparations.
All that needs to be done is soak a portion of couscous in the same volume of boiling liquid, covered, with any aromatics required. Ignore labels on the package that tell you to boil it – soaking for 10-15 minutes, until the grains absorb all the liquid and soften is all it takes. Fluff it up immediately, or it will go soggy.
And that’s where the pleasant and amenable nature of couscous ends. From now on, it’s a real pest which goes EVERYWHERE and is impossible to clean up.
Those little granules particularly love your hob’s nooks and crannies. Transferring it from one bowl to another ALWAYS ends up with some of it on the floor. If you thought rice was bad to clean up, wait for what these tiny beasties can do.
But it’s all very much worth it: the dish is fabulous.
And it’s quick and easy to put together too.
How to make the asparagus couscous
Making the asparagus stock is optional; you can just as well use boiling water or a dissolved stock cube. But I hate to discard the ends snapped off the spears – that’s flavour going into the bin!
I collect them and simmer for as long as it takes to prepare all the other stuff, and use the liquid as stock for the couscous. That’s asparagus amplified to 11!
Then, when you have prepared all the ingredients*, pour strained asparagus stock over the couscous and let it sit covered with cling film.
This will give you time to chop and cook the asparagus spears, in a frying pan, with foaming butter. Depending on how fat the stems are, it will take between 5 and 10 minutes.
The last step is toasting the pistachios, in the same pan, after the asparagus has gone to meet the couscous. And then they can join the rest, with herbs, olive oil and seasoning. Dinner’s ready!
More asparagus recipes
Simple pasta with fresh asparagus and lots of lemon, a perfect spring dish. Chunky pasta shapes will be the best here.
Asparagus is great in stir fries, with fish or seafood, like the scallop and asparagus stir fry for instance.
A warm salad of new potatoes with asparagus and pancetta doesn’t even need a dressing but a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper.
More couscous recipes
Another easy salad, to be served hot or cold: chicken couscous salad with red peppers.
A variety of couscous is ptitim, also known as giant or Israeli couscous. It is a perfect combination with tomatoes and roasted red peppers.
Couscous in a sweet version, served for breakfast with raisins, honey and a large dollop of thick yoghurt.
*My beef with most recipes is that they cut to the chase with half the preparations included in the ingredients’ list: onion, peeled and chopped; chicken, sliced into strips; carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into matchsticks – no wonder the rest of the process can be called a 5-minute recipe! Forty minutes has already gone into prepping the ingredients.