Il mio amore was coming for dinner last eve and I was in the mood for something I rarely make – couscous. This typically Arab dish has made its way into the cuisine of Sicily due to its proximity to the region. During my trips to Pantelleria, which lies closer to Tunisia than mainland Sicily, I often spied couscous dishes on the menu. I have mouthwatering memories of sitting at a restaurant on the water, fresh breezes from the sea wafting through the open window, eating a delicious couscous dish chock full of fresh seafood pulled from the gorgeous waters surrounding the island. I have seen recipes for this prepared with both chicken and fish in the same dish (Giuliano Bugialli has one) but the one I so fondly remembered from Pantelleria was served with just seafood – which is how I have prepared it here. I started with a recipe from Epicurious and adapted from there. Feel free to improvise – add some fish such as halibut or cod; perhaps some calamari and even chicken if you so desire. This dish comes together rather quickly after the initial tomato broth is made. Add a salad and a bottle of crisp white wine and you are sure to impress! Enjoy!
Sicilian Seafood Couscous
1 pound of mussels, scrubbed and de-breaded
24 littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 pound of shrimp, peeled, deveined (SAVE the shrimp shells for use in the broth, if possible!!)
For the tomato broth:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 stalk of celery, thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 can of diced tomatoes (14.5 ounce), with their juices
3 bottles of clam juice (8 ounces each)
1 cup of water, plus more if needed
For the mussels, clams:
1 cup of white wine
For the couscous:
2 1/2 cups plain couscous
1 1/2 cups water
1 3/4 cups tomato broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Freshly ground pepper
2 bay leaves
Fresh parsley, chopped
1 heavy large pot (for tomato broth)
1 large pot (to steam mussels and clams)
1 medium saucepan (for liquid to be added to couscous)
2 large bowls (one to place opened mussels and clams; one to mix the couscous)
1. Make the tomato broth: Heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil in the large pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and saute until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the chopped carrot, celery and garlic and continue to saute until soft, about another 5 minutes.
2. Add in the tomatoes with their juices and 1 bottle of the clam juice. Bring mixture to a boil and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Cover and simmer another 10 minutes. Pour mixture into a blender or food processor and blend until chunky. Return mixture to pot. Add in the additional bottles of clam juice and 1 cup of water.
3. Wrap the shrimp shells in cheesecloth and place in the tomato broth. Allow broth to simmer for about 30 minutes, adding additional water if needed.
4. Prepare the mussels and clams: In another large pot, add the mussels, clams and white wine to the pot and cover. Cook over medium high heat until the clams and mussels have opened. Discard any that do not open. As they open, using tongs, transfer the mussels and clams to a large bowl. Add cooking liquid from mussels and clams to tomato broth. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
5. Prepare the couscous: Put the couscous in a large bowl. In a medium saucepan, combine the 1 1/2 cups water, 1 3/4 cups tomato broth and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Bring to a boil. Pour over couscous. Cover and let stand until all the liquid is absorbed. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover again and let stand until ready to use.
6. Remove the shrimp shells from the tomato broth. Add the bay leaves into the tomato broth and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the shrimp. Cover and simmer until the shrimp is opaque in the center, about 5 minutes. Lower heat to medium-low and add the reserved mussels and clams to the pot.
7. To serve – Stir couscous to be sure all lumps are good. Mound on a platter. Top with the seafood. Pour tomato broth over to moisten. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve any additional tomato broth on the side. Enjoy!