I think I have figured out why French women don’t get fat. Before our trip to Paris, I daydreamed about all the wonderful meals we were going to have at sidewalk cafes. You know the places I was thinking about: restaurants with a big awning and a long row of cute little round bistro tables, with both chairs on one side, facing the sidewalk, so two young lawyers — er, people — in love could sit and hold hands and sip coffee and watch Paris walk by? Somewhere like this. I thought about the romantic breakfasts where we would hold hands and enjoy perfectly buttery croissants, and the lunches we would share, discovering new food, and laughing over glasses of wine in the sunshine.
So on our first morning in Paris we did as the Parisians do — picked a table with two chairs facing the sidewalk in the Latin Quarter and ordered ourselves a pair of cafe cremes and croissants. The weather was perfect, the architecture incredible, the people-watching superb. We held hands while sipped our coffee, and it was just as romantic as I’d imagined. And the croissants! Warm and buttery, and just the perfect amount of flaky and … oh-my-gosh-I-am-completely-covered-in-croissant-crumbs-they-are-literally-everywhere-ew-how-did-it-get-in-my-hair? The thing about those adorably quaint little bistro tables is there just isn’t enough room for two people to sit on one side of them. There was too much unoccupied airspace between the edge of the table and my mouth, so I would up using my lap as a drop cloth for my breakfast. (Worry not, dear readers, as I am a life-long Spiller and only travel with clothes that dirty well — which is practical, if not exactly adorable). French women are pretty and put-together in a way that makes me strongly suspect they do not crumble croissants all over their couture every morning. Which is probably why they don’t get fat. We loved the croissants anyway — we held hands and enjoyed our breakfast, covered in crumbs and laughing at ourselves. It was exactly as romantic as I’d imagined, but a little more “us.”
Lunch, however, was a different story. Lunch is gametime. Lunch, not to be sacrificed for romantic ideals, was enjoyed on opposite sides of those tiny little bistro tables, with every magical bite making it all the way to my mouth. (There was still the laughter and the sunshine and the wine, so the romance survived, even though we were parted.) And it was our last lunch in Paris — white asparagus wrapped in salty proscuitto followed by olive-stuffed chicken over creamy pesto cous cous risotto — that inspired this meal.
The pairing of olives, chicken, basil pesto, and pasta was amazing, and bound to pop up on leightogreato sometime soon. But on the night that I was craving a couscous risotto, I didn’t really feel like chicken and we had bell peppers and goat cheese hanging around in the fridge. So this risotto, Parisian in spirit, took on the flavors of Sara Jenkin’s spicy lamb pasta from Porsena (my favorite pasta dish in the City, and one I am constantly trying to recreate at home) with ground meat, a few handfuls of kale and crunchy fried bread crumbs to bring the whole thing together. Let me tell you, this is one of the best things to come out of the leightogreato kitchen in a while.
You may have noticed that this dish is made with israeli couscous, the larger, pearl-shaped, more pasta-y sister to ordinary teenie tiny couscous. If you don’t have — or can’t find (erhm, it’s available on amazon) — israeli couscous, I think a small-shaped pasta like orzo would be a better substitute in this dish than regular ol’ couscous. You’ll get the pasta texture, even if you lose the fun shape of the israeli couscous.
- 2 bell peppers (I used one yellow and one red, but any combination of yellow, red and orange will work)
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- 4 big handfuls of kale leaves, washed and stripped of their stems
- 2 c. Israeli couscous
- 3 T. bread crumbs
- ⅓ c. cream
- ⅔ c. milk
- 4 oz. goat cheese
- ½ c. grated parmesan cheese
- ¾ lb. ground lamb
- 1 T. red pepper flakes (I used aleppo pepper flakes and they were awesommmme)
- ½ T. dried oregano
- 4 T. olive oil
- Start by blackening the pepper either directly on the stovetop gas flame or in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes, flipping halfway through.
- Once the peppers are nice and charred, throw them into a brown paper bag to cool. Work on the other stuff but periodically check in on the cooling peppers -- once they are cool to the touch, peel the skins off the peppers and roughly chop them. You'll add them to the other sauce ingredients just before pureeing.
- Heat 1 T. olive oil in a saucepan on the stove; add the onion and saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onions become translucent. Add the smashed garlic cloves and saute for 2 minutes more. Stir in the cream, milk, and cheese and stir over the heat until the cheese has all melted. Add the peeled and chopped roasted peppers and puree the sauce, either with an immersion blender or in a traditional blender (but be careful pouring this mix into a blender! It's hot.)
- Season the lamb with the pepper flakes, oregano, a big pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Saute over medium-high heat until it's lost the raw, pink color.
- Strain the fat from the meat (or scoop the meat out of the pan, squeezing off fat with your spoon and leaving the fat to fry breadcrumbs later) and add the meat to the red pepper sauce.
- Stir in the kale and heat for a few minutes, until the kale is wilted.
- Boil 2½ cups of water over high heat with a fat pinch of kosher salt and 1 T. olive oil. Once the water is boiling, stir in the israeli couscous and cover.
- Simmer for 10 minutes or so, until the couscous has absorbed all the water.
- Stir couscous into roasted pepper, lamb, and kale mixture.
- Heat the breadcrumbs with 2 T. olive oil over medium heat (I used the fat rendered off the ground lamb and didn't use any extra oil) until they're brown and toasty.
- Top the couscous risotto with the breadcrumbs for an extra crunch.
Ugh, Second Note: Also, I reserved half the sauce and froze it for a rainy day. Feel free to use all the sauce, or only part. Remember that the pasta will soak up a lot of the sauce in the fridge, so if you have a little extra hanging around you can adjust the leftovers' dryness. But if you're going to eat the whole dish when you make it, you probably won't need allllll of the sauce.