Lately dishes have been coming together nicely – like this one. I had half a butternut left over from making Sweetcorn and Butternut Fritters, and some beautiful but very hard dried apricots from the Afghan shop that needed to be used up. What better way to do that but with couscous. Those dried apricots, by the way, are such a surprise. They look like nothing when dried, so hard and dark in colour, yet they plump up to flavoursome soft apricots when soaked. I love them.
Roast the pumpkin the evening before if you are looking to save time. This is a very easy dish, and it makes a great salad or side dish. It is from Ottolenghi’s Ottolenghi, the first of his books. It is interesting to go back and browse through Ottolenghi – you can see the journey that Yotham has been on, and the journey that we have been on along with him.
Saffron Couscous with Dried Apricots and Butternut Pumpkin
1 large onion, thinly sliced
6 Tblspn olive oil
50g dried apricots
1 small butternut squash (about 450g) peeled, seeded and cut into 2cm dice
400ml vegetable stock or water
a pinch of saffron strands
3 Tblspn chopped greens from spring onions (scallions)
3 Tblspn roughly chopped mint
3 Tblspn roughly chopped parsley
1.5 tspn ground cinnamon
grated zest of half a lemon
coarse sea salt and black pepper
additional herbs such as chives, coriander, chervil – the more the merrier
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Place the onion in a large frying pan with 2 Tblspn of the oil and a pinch of salt. Saute over high heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside.
Meanwhile, pour enough hot water from the tap over the apricots just to cover them. Soak for 5 minutes, then drain and cut into 5mm dice. (If you are using the very hard but delicious apricots from the Middle East, they might need longer to soak.)
Mix the diced butternut with 1 Tblspn of the olive oil and some salt and pepper. Spread the squash out on a baking sheet, place in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until lightly coloured and quite soft.
While waiting for the butternut, cook the couscous. Bring the stock or water to a boil with the saffron. Add the couscous to it while stirring, and the remaining olive oil (3 Tblspn). Cover the saucepan and leave for about 10 minutes; all the liquid should have been absorbed.
Use a fork or a whisk to fluff up the couscous, then add the onion, butternut squash, apricots, herbs, cinnamon and lemon zest. Mix well with your hands, trying not to mash the butternut squash. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. Serve warmish or cold.