Moments after the kids started digging in, they paused and – almost in unison – said: “wow, this is good.” I spontaneously got a 9.5 out of 10 and the constructive feedback that “a 10 out of 10 was well within reach if I added more cheese”. Smartasses…

I based it on a recipe from Thomas van Burg featured in the Dutch magazine Jan. The original is made with orzo, but I had to revert to pearl couscous as I couldn’t get my hands on orzo at the supermarket.

Orzo, also known as risoni, is a form of short-cut pasta, shaped like a large grain of rice, that is often boiled in Italian soups, like minestrone. It also is boiled and lightly fried, to resemble risotto. Orzo is similar to ptitim in Israeli cuisine, kritharáki in Greek cuisine, arpa şehriye in Turkish cuisine and lisān al-`uṣfūr in Arabic cooking (thanks Wikipedia!)

As said, I replaced the orzo with pearl couscous (from Al’Fez) which is more known as mograbia and is similar to ptitim or fregola for that matter. What’s very nice about pearl couscous is that it retains its shape and texture (even when reheated the next day). I often use it as a substitute for pasta or rice, and as it does not clump together, it is brilliant in cold salads. Please note that you will have to cut the amount of stock in this recipe by about a quarter as it doesn’t absorb as much as orzo does.

The recipe (serves 4): 

The ingredients
  • leaves from 5 sprigs of fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers, sliced in thin strips
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 8 tomatoes, chopped in cubes
  • 225g / ½ pound orzo
  • 20g / ¾ oz toasted pine nuts
  • 125g / 1 cup Grana Padano, grated
  • 600 ml / 2¼ cups vegetable stock
The instructions
  1. Mix the thyme leaves in a bowl with the extra virgin olive oil with some salt and pepper (for a more intense flavor grind together in a pestle and mortar)
  2. Heat half of the olive oil in a pan on medium heat and fry the shallot and half of the garlic for about 2 minutes. Add the orzo and tomatoes and fry for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add the stock and cook for 10-12 minutes with the lid on the pan until the stock is mostly absorbed
  3. Heat the remaining olive oil in a wok or large sauté pan on medium heat and fry the red bell pepper strips and remaining garlic for about 6 minutes
  4. Add half the grana padano to the orzo and season to taste with salt and pepper
  5. Divide the orzo over 4 plates and add the fried peppers and garnish with the pine nuts, remaining grana padano, and drizzle over the thyme oil

What worked and what didn’t:
The kids liked it very much, as did the adults! The smokiness from the peppers and the floral punch of the thyme infused olive oil work well with the pearl couscous, whose slightly slippery structure is offset by the crunch of the pine nuts. Nothing to fault it and on the table in about 20-25 minutes.

Recipe accuracy:
The recipe is accurate, easy to follow and serves 4 persons.

Suggested tweaks:

Verdict: 9.5/10 (what else…); Will definitely be made again.

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