Simple Weeknight Meals : Couscous Risotto

It finally rained in San Fran. Since we moved here back in October it's been dry as a bone. I can't say I haven't enjoy the beautiful weather, but the looming drought was getting everyone worried. So we enjoyed a weekend at the movies, shopping, watching the Olympics, and of course, eating. We tried out a restaurant down in Lower Haight called Chapparal and had a great meal. Bonus! It was BYOB which is pretty rare here in comparison to the abundance in Chicago.

On Sunday night I whipped up some of this couscous risotto. Thanks to some inspiration from Caroline Wright, I found this awesome recipe on I'm a sucker for a good risotto, and this variation from the traditional is oh-so-good. You'll notice the first ingredient in the list is passata. It's very similar to a can of crushed tomatoes, but since the skin and seeds are removed, it's much thinner. If you use crushed tomatoes, run them through a mesh sieve first. I found passata in my Whole Foods on the bottom shelf next to the canned tomatoes. I would guess you can do the same.

Mozzarella, Sausage and Tomato Couscous Risotto
makes 3-4 servings, 30 - 40 minutes preparation time

1 1/2 cups passata (or strained crushed tomatoes)
2 cups chicken broth (homemade or low sodium)
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 - 3/4 lb. hot Italian sausage (casing removed)
1 shallot (minced)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1 cup toasted Israeli couscous
3/4 cup fresh mozzarella (ripped into small pieces)
salt and pepper
olive oil

You'll need 2 pans for this dish - 1 saucepan and 1 large saute pan.

Set the saucepan over medium heat. Add passata (or strained crushed tomatoes), chicken broth and thyme. Cover and bring to a slow simmer. Lower heat to keep at a slow simmer.

As liquid comes to a simmer, get the other ingredients started. Heat saute pan over medium high heat and drop in the sausage (all casing removed). Break up the sausage into bite-sized pieces and brown, about 8 minutes. Remove sausage to a plate and set aside. Leave fat in saute pan.

Lower heat to medium and add a small amount of olive oil, more or less depending on how much fat was rendered from the sausage. Add shallots, garlic, salt and pepper, and let cook for 3 minutes. Add couscous and let toast in the pan for another 3 minutes. Be careful not to let anything burn or brown.

To the saute pan, add simmering liquid in 4-5 batches. Using a ladle or cup, add one scoop at a time to the couscous, with a small dash of salt. Stir continuously until most of liquid is absorbed before adding another scoop. Repeat until liquid is gone.

Once all liquid has been added, turn off heat. Remove thyme leaves. Add sausage and mozzarella to the pan and fold in. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as necessary.

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