I had a couple of little butternut squashes that I’d been neglecting, and a turnip collection sat hopeful but lonely in the vegetable bin. It was time to find a good winter dish where they’d be put to use. That didn’t take long once I grabbed my copy of Plenty. The recipe really is called the ultimate winter couscous, but I don’t think that means you have to stick to it too precisely. You could use any type of winter squash, and turnips weren’t even mentioned in the ingredient list, but I was sure they’d be fine. What was in that list was carrots, parsnips, shallots, dried apricots, chickpeas, chopped preserved lemon, harissa, and lots of spices. The vegetables were to be roasted until tender and sweet, and I could imagine the smell of the spices filling the kitchen before the oven was even warmed. I think this is the ultimate winter dish because it really couldn’t go wrong. It was full of warm spice flavors, sweet roasted charm, and perky acidity and heat.
First, big chunks of all the vegetables needed to be roasted, and I used carrots, parsnips, turnips, and butternut squash. Shallots were added to the roasting pan along with cinnamon sticks, star anise, bay leaves, ground ginger, ground turmeric, hot paprika, chile flakes, olive oil, and salt. After roasting for a bit, chopped dried apricots, chickpeas, and a little water were added to the pan. Just before the vegetables were ready, couscous was added to boiling water with saffron and olive oil. After the couscous had absorbed the water, butter was added, and the couscous was mixed and fluffed. When the roasting pan was removed from the oven, a big spoonful of harissa and some chopped preserved lemon rind were stirred into the vegetables. The couscous was served topped with the roasted vegetables and some chopped cilantro leaves.
This was such a fragrant dish, and it hit on just about every flavor you can name. The preserved lemon added little sparks of brightness here and there while the cilantro brought some fresh herbiness. The flavors of all the vegetables had become sweeter and more intense from roasting, and the spices permeated each bite. This was an ultimate winter dish, and I’ll remember it next time my butternut squash or turnips or parsnips are feeling overlooked.