Well, here I go vegging out again, and me a dedicated carnivore, as I keep feeling obliged to remind you.
But it's a pleasure to bring you a dish featuring the North African staple couscous, which has been around, oh, since only the 13th century or so. In a region that prides itself on its heritage and culture, it doesn't get much more authentic than that.
The name couscous comes from the Berber word seksu, which means well rolled, but it has many other names and pronunciations around this funny globe of ours. Still, it's simply semolina, which is the coarse, purified – and, yes, well-rolled – middlings of durum wheat. You've probably had it in pastas, porridges and puddings without knowing it.
Don't look down your nose at packaged couscous. It's pre-steamed and dried, so it's not labour intensive, and you'll find it fluffs up just lovely after sitting around - sort of like your favourite chef, if I do say so myself.
Grilling the vegetables - which, along with the couscous, you will stuff into roasted peppers – caramelises them, of course, and brings out their natural sugars for a burst of smoky, sweet and spicy flavour. The creamy pesto sauce is like icing on a cake; the base is good enough, but the whole product soars to new levels with a velvety topping.
And going back to authenticity, you really ought to make your own pesto for this dish – and by using a marble mortar and a wooden pestle, rather than a food processor.
Just throw a handful of basil leaves into the mortar and crush them up. Then add a handful of pine nuts and crush again. Then a clove of garlic and keep crushing until the mix has become a paste. Add a handful of pecorino cheese, stir and drizzle in some olive oil, and there you have it. Maybe a dash of salt and pepper.
You could make these stuffed peppers in the afternoon and serve for a refreshing summer supper two hours later. But the flavours will marry more if you leave the peppers in the fridge overnight. Regardless, the mint leaves, as you might expect, provide the final tingling taste sensation.
MAKE IT YOURSELF
Chilled stuffed peppers with pesto couscous salad and grilled vegetables
700ml boiling water
400g aubergine (about 4 medium)
150g red onion (about 2 medium)
400g courgette (about 2 medium)
4 small yellow peppers
4 small red peppers
30ml olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
150g prepared pesto sauce
16 fresh mint leaves
1. Heat grill and preheat oven to 200°C.
2. Place the couscous in a bowl, add the boiling water and cover with cling film. Set aside for 20 minutes.
3. Slice the aubergine, onion and courgette 1cm thick. Grill for 2 minutes on each side, then cut into small cubes.
4. Cut the yellow and red peppers in half, discard the seeds and place, open sides up, in a tray drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper.
5. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.
6. Stir the couscous with a wooden spoon to separate all the grains.
7. Add the aubergine, onion, courgette and pesto sauce. Stir well and adjust seasoning.
8. Stuff the peppers with the couscous-vegetable mixture and place in the fridge for 2 hours.
9. Decorate with mint leaves and serve chilled.
This dish is offered at Frankie’s Restaurant & Bar, which features Friday Brunch and the new CuiScene restaurant. Call 02 654 3238 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org