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Jammy sofrito couscous with ricotta is a fantastic side dish to complement almost any protein. With homemade sofrito, caramelized leeks, fresh herbs, and creamy ricotta, this couscous dish can easily steal the spotlight.
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What makes this dish special
One of the reasons I love fine dining other than the amazing food, is the learning experience. Every restaurant I was able to visit opened my eyes to different cooking techniques, and flavor combinations that I never would have thought of. It's because of these restaurants that I myself am able to stay inspired.
Today's recipe is inspired by yet another amazing restaurant in New York, Oxalis. One of the dishes was wild rice in a jammy sofrito and seasonal vegetables. I was amazed at how incredibly flavorful the meal was, and it was essentially just rice and vegetables! I knew I had to create a version of it. My jammy sofrito couscous with ricotta incorporates a few different elements including caramelized leeks, toasted almonds, and creamy ricotta. However, it's one dish that I will gladly go back to again and again.
What is sofrito?
There are different types of sofrito, Italian and Spanish sofrito. Today, we're going to prepare the Spanish version. Spanish sofrito is a flavorful base used in Spanish and Latin American cuisine. It typically consists of aromatic ingredients like onions, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, and various herbs and spices. The ingredients are slow-cooked together to create a thick, savory sauce.
The sofrito serves as a foundational element in many Spanish and Latin American dishes, imparting a rich and aromatic flavor to the final preparations. The specific ingredients and proportions can vary based on regional and personal preferences. Sofrito can be used in a variety of dishes, including stews, rice dishes, soups, and more, acting as a flavor enhancer and providing depth to the overall culinary creation.
- Canned whole tomatoes: These are tomatoes that have been processed and canned whole, typically in their own juices. You can use fresh tomatoes if they are in season.
- Spices: To flavor our sofrito, we're using paprika, cumin, and dried oregano. You can use smoked paprika for a more intense smoked flavor and add thyme or parsley as well.
- Red wine: The alcoholic beverage adds another layer of flavor while the alcohol cooks out during the simmering process. However, if you don't like the flavor, you can omit it.
- Pearl couscous: Also known as Israeli couscous, these are small, round, toasted pasta pearls made from semolina and wheat flour. You can substitute for small pasta like orzo but I do not recommend using regular couscous because it can get too soft from the sauce and ricotta.
- Ricotta: An Italian whey cheese made from sheep, cow, goat, or buffalo milk whey left over from the production of other cheeses. The soft creamy cheese adds richness to the couscous.
- Spinach: To balance the creamy cheese and slightly acidic sofrito, we're adding a slightly bitter green. You can also use kale or Swiss chard.
- Red chili flakes: The crushed red peppers add a touch of heat but can be omitted if you want a mild version.
How to make jammy sofrito couscous with ricotta
Step 1: Make sofrito
Since the sofrito is the base of the couscous, let's start by making this wonderful sauce. Start by heating 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepot over medium heat. I prefer using a heavy-bottomed sauce pot or Dutch oven because it provides even heat distribution across the bottom of the pot. This also means there's less of a risk of the sauce scorching and sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Add chopped onions, season with salt and pepper, then cover the pot and sauté for 5 minutes. Covering the pot allows the onions to steam rather than brown.
Uncover the pot and incorporate minced garlic and chopped green bell pepper. Continue to sauté for an additional 5 minutes until the peppers are softened.
Introduce ¼ cup of red wine to the pot, bringing it to a boil, then allow it to simmer until most of the wine has evaporated. Then, add whole canned tomatoes along with paprika, dried oregano, cumin, and a sprig of rosemary. Stir to combine and bring the mixture to a simmer.
Reduce the heat to low and continue simmering for about 50 minutes to 1 hour, occasionally mashing the tomatoes to release their juices. The sofrito should thicken and reduce by approximately ⅓. Season with salt and pepper, then set it aside.
Feel free to make the sofrito up to 5 days in advance. In fact, it tastes better as it sits because the flavors are able to meld together.
Step 2: Caramelize leeks
While the sofrito is simmering, focus on caramelizing the leeks. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sliced leeks, seasoning them with salt. Seasoning the leeks in the beginning will help them brown more evenly, although it will take a bit longer.
Continue cooking until the leeks achieve a deep golden brown color, stirring frequently. If the pan becomes dry, add a splash of water.
Caramelizing leeks is a slow process, don't rush it. If you increase the heat and try to hurry the process, they can burn instead. It should take about 30 minutes for the leeks to fully caramelize.
Step 3: Putting it all together
Now it's time to bring all of the components together. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan with the leeks and add minced garlic, red chili flakes, and spinach. Sauté for 4-5 minutes, or until the garlic is golden brown, and the spinach is wilted.
Simultaneously, cook 1 cup of dry pearl couscous according to the package instructions. Drain and add it to the sauté pan along with 1 cup of the sofrito sauce and ricotta. Stir to combine and season with salt and pepper.
Transfer the jammy sofrito couscous onto a serving plate and garnish with toasted almonds, chopped parsley, basil, and grated parmesan. You can also drizzle extra virgin olive oil on top for a little extra bump of richness.
I know, I know, this dish was a lot of work for a side. But it can easily be served as the main dish as well - it's flavorful enough to be one! And hopefully, after tasting the couscous, you won't regret going through the trouble of making it.
Frequently asked questions
Whole canned tomatoes provide a richer tomato flavor than diced and are ideal for making the sofrito. However, if you can't find whole you can use diced tomatoes instead.
It's a great side for almost any protein, steak, roasted chicken, baked or pan-fried fish, or even cauliflower steaks. If you want to serve this as the main dish, you can add more vegetables to make it more satisfying.
It's a great base for paella, soups and stews, and even pasta.
This jammy sofrito couscous with ricotta pairs well with American, Spanish, Italian, and Mediterranean dishes. Here are some of my favorite meals to pair it with:
Jammy Sofrito Couscous with Ricotta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ medium onion chopped
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- ½ green bell peppers chopped
- ¼ cup red wine
- 28 oz canned whole tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 1 sprig rosemary
- salt and pepper
- 1 cup dry pearl couscous
- 2 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 leeks halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon red chili flakes
- 4 ounces spinach
- ½ cup ricotta
- salt and pepper
- ¼ cup toasted sliced almonds
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil
- ¼ cup grated parmesan
- Make the sofrito. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepot over medium heat. Add onions and season with salt pepper. Cover the pot and saute for 5 minutes. Remove lid and add garlic and green bell pepper. Continue to saute for 5 more minutes or until peppers are softened.
- Add red wine and bring to a boil. Continue to simmer until almost all of the wine has evaporated. Add tomatoes, paprika, oregano, cumin, and rosemary, stirring to combine. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and continue to simmer for about 50 minutes - 1 hour, mashing tomatoes occasionally to release their juices. The sofrito should thicken and reduce by about ⅓. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Meanwhile, caramelize the leeks. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add sliced leeks and season with salt. Continue to cook until leeks turn deep golden brown, stirring frequently. If the pan becomes too dry, add a splash of water.
- Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and add garlic, red chili flakes, and spinach. Saute for 4-5 minutes or until garlic is golden brown and spinach is wilted.
- Cook pearl couscous according to directions on package. Drain and add to the saute pan along with 1 cup sofrito sauce and ricotta. Stir to combine and season with salt and pepper.
- Transfer jammy sofrito couscous onto a serving plate and top with toasted almonds, parsley, basil, and grated parmesan. Serve immediately.