If, like us, you have a mountain of basil in your garden, go make pesto! And then make this pesto couscous salad and feel damn proud of yourself.
With great gardening power comes great gardening responsibility. Namely, what the heckings do I do with the huge jungle of basil that is currently exploding in my front garden? Well fair reader, I’m glad you asked.
The first thing I did was make Basil Pesto with Walnuts and Pecorino. Holy moly, is it tasty. (I list a whole bunch of uses for it on that post but this magnificent salad deserved a post of its very own).
The idea came about because Matt and I had plans to go to a Sangria Festival at a local winery with some friends (and yes, this event is exactly as fun as it sounds.) We’ve gone the last few years and had an absolutely amazing time. It’s basically a huge picnic, with the most incredible views of the Hudson River, and endless access to refreshingly delicious but dangerously potent sangrias. It’s a week later and I’m still recuperating (#old).
I had thought about making that old summer favorite, Caprese Salad but wanted something a little more substantial. Instead of using regular pasta salad, I went with Israeli couscous which is one of my favorite ingredients.
Israeli couscous is sometimes referred to as Pearl couscous or Ptitim. It’s toasted pasta shaped like little balls and it’s similar to the ancient Mediterranean grain known as maftoul, Lebanese mograbieh and also Sardinian Fregula.
- Toasting the couscous in the pot with a little oil adds to its nutty, rich flavor.
- We added olives but this couscous salad is extremely versatile. You could add any chopped raw, grilled or roasted vegetable you like.
- If you can’t find bocconcini (little mozzarella balls), cube up a large ball of fresh mozzarella instead.
- Feta cheese would also be a delicious substitute for mozzarella.
- ½ cup homemade or store-bought pesto (more as needed)
- For the Israeli Couscous
- 2½ cups Israeli couscous (also called Pearl couscous)
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 2 scallions, finely sliced
- ½ cup pitted kalamata olives
- 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
- 12 bocconcini (mini fresh mozzarella balls), halved
- A few basil leaves for garnish (optional)
- Put a kettle on to boil.
- In a large heavy pot on medium-high, heat two tablespoons of olive oil. Add the couscous and sauté in the olive oil until it turns a light golden brown (3-4 minutes). Add 3½ cups of boiling water and a large pinch of salt and stir it around. Cook according to package directions until al dente (usually about 8 minutes). It will likely soak up all the water but if there’s any water left, drain it well in a colander and set aside in a large mixing bowl to cool.
- When the couscous has cooled, fluff it with a fork and add the olives and scallions. Add ¼ cup of pesto and toss to coat. If it looks too dry, add more pesto until it’s nicely coated but not laden. Taste for seasoning. Scatter the mozzarella and tomatoes over, garnish with basil leaves and serve.