This makes a fantastic centerpiece on a buffet table, and while the recipe is admittedly elaborate, it can be deconstructed so that even the busiest of cooks can do it with ease. Prepare the recipe in stages: Roast the vegetables the day before. Toast the almonds, a garnish, ahead of time, too. Cooking the couscous does have to be done at the last minute, but it is not difficult, and by that time you are in the home stretch, as it were! When you bring this exotic platter to the table, you will realize just how worthwhile all your efforts have been. This is gala company fare, of the very best kind.
A final note: We call for parchment paper for lining the baking sheets you will use to roast the vegetable. This is not an industrial conceit on our part. It will make cleanup a lot easier.
2 medium carrots
2 medium zucchini
1 small butternut squash
¼ cup sliced almonds, for garnish
1 cup pitted prunes
1 cup of orange juice
¼ cup honey
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ¼ cups plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium red onions
1 pound plain couscous (do not use a flavored couscous)
2 cups of water
½ teaspoon saffron threads
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line 4 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Prepare the vegetables: Peel the carrots and cut them into 1-inch cubes. Wash, trim and cut the zucchini into 1-inch cubes. With a vegetable peeler, remove the skin on the butternut squash, cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and cut into 1-inch cubes.
- In a small baking pan, toast the almonds, without oil, until golden.
- Soak the prunes in the orange juice for 1 hour.
- In a wide bowl, combine the honey, ginger, ½ teaspoon of the cinnamon, cayenne, paprika, and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Add 1 cup of the olive oil and whisk to blend. Place the cubed carrots, zucchini, and butternut, one vegetable at a time, in the spice blend and stir to coat lightly. Transfer the cubes to the baking sheets, arranging them in one layer, and keeping the zucchini on a separate baking sheet. Place in the oven. After 20 minutes, turn the vegetables and rotate from the top of the pan to bottom. The zucchini will take 20 minutes to cook. The carrots and butternut squash will take 40 minutes. Remove the vegetables as they are done, and let cool on the baking sheets.
- Peel the red onion and cut them into 1 inch thick wedges.
- Hear ¼ cup of the remaining olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the red onion wedges, turning, and cook until they start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the prunes and orange juice. Lower the heat and continue cooking until the onions are soft and the orange juice is syrupy about 20 minutes. Stir in the remaining ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and set aside to cool.
- Place the couscous in a heatproof bowl and add the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Stir to coat the grains.
- Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan and add the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Stir to coat the grains.
- To assemble the couscous, first, fluff it with a fork or with your fingertips. Spread the couscous, mounding it slightly in the center, in a wide, shallow, serving bowl. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds.
- In a large bowl, combine all the roasted vegetables with the prune and onion mixture and toss gently to combine. Mound the roasted vegetables in the center of the couscous and serve.
Notes: The same amount of dried apricots or currents can be substituted for the prunes if desired.
For obvious reasons, the texture being the principal one, we do not recommend trying to store this dish to serve later as a leftover. It does not keep.