Serves a Crowd

Fregola Sarda with Caramelized Squash and Charmoula

January  8, 2010
4 Ratings
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

Though my husband dutifully loves and eats everything I cook, I’m fairly certain he would prefer it all with a little more cumin and a lot more garlic. Enter charmoula, a North African condiment composed of garlic, spices and fresh herbs. It’s fabulous, and can turn even the prissiest dish into certified man-food. Rarely do you see charmoula used in home kitchens (unlike the ubiquitous pesto) and I’m not sure why; the ingredients are few, the method is simple, and the flavor is downright explosive.

Charmoula can be used as a marinade for meat and fish or as a dressing for any number of grain and vegetable dishes (try it on potatoes!). In the recipe below, caramelized winter squash is tossed with nutty Sardinian couscous – a combination delicious in its own right, but brilliant once enlivened by pungent cumin and garlic, spicy paprika, and vibrant cilantro.

(As a side note, this being flu season and all, it's important to work raw garlic into your diet. Raw garlic contains selenium, an essential micronutrient for combatting the flu virus (Brazil nuts and whole grains are also wonderful sources). Charmoula, pesto, and hummus offer three tasty ways for getting your daily allowance!) - porktopurslane —Michelle McKenzie

Test Kitchen Notes

Fregola lends a hearty feel to this dish and we loved how the rich flavors of caramelized butternut squash and toasted pine nuts were balanced by the musky charmoula (made with cilantro, cumin, garlic, parsley, lemon zest, sweet and spicy smoked paprika and cayenne). There's a lot going on in this dish and all of it is good. Add the lemon juice to taste, and if pine nuts are expensive, feel free to substitute toasted walnuts or almonds. Roast a chicken, grilled some shoulder lamb chops or just make a nice big salad with some goat cheese, and a fine dinner will be yours. - A&M —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1 pound fregola sarda (Couscous)
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 3 cups roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 cup toasted pine nuts
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • sea salt to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 475 F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. On a large sheet pan, toss butternut squash with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and a generous pinch of sea salt (make sure not to overcrowd the pan; use two pans if necessary). Roast squash for approximately 20-25 minutes or until tender and caramelized. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Cook fregola sarda in boiling water for 10-11 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and return to the pot; set aside and keep warm.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium heat, toast cumin seeds for a minute or two – or until they release a fantastic smell and start to make a popping sound (keep an eye on them, so they don’t burn). Tranfer toasted cumin seeds to a mortar; add the garlic and a big pinch of sea salt. Pound cumin and garlic into a paste. Add chopped herbs in batches, and continue to pound until a chunky paste forms. Add paprika, cayenne, the zest of 1 lemon, and 4 tablespoons olive oil; stir to combine and set aside. (Alternatively, you could process all ingredients in a food processor.)
  4. To the pot with the fregola, add the butternut squash, the juice of 2 lemons, the charmoula, and the toasted nuts. With a wooden spoon, toss gently to combine (avoid mashing the squash). Serve warm or at room temperature.
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Michelle McKenzie is the author of Dandelion & Quince: Exploring the Wide World of Unusual Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs. Her second cookbook, The Modern Larder, is due to arrive in fall 2018 and will introduce home-cooks to a raft of new, flavor-packed pantry staples - e.g. shiso, ndjua, Job's Tears, and dozens of others - and incorporate them into over 200 wholesome recipes.

35 Reviews

PerkyPop January 31, 2019
Thank you for this wonderful recipe! Made it exactly as written, no substitutions, for the first try — it came out great, but can use a little extra lemon zest and juice for more brightness and maybe reserve a sprinkling of parsley and pine nuts to top at the end. The Charmoula is adaptable! I will use that sauce on many things. A new favorite to add to the Pesto, Chimichurri and S'hug rotation.
Rupa February 16, 2018
This was tremendous! So very flavorful. Thank you for introducing me to charmoula - I want to put it on everything now.
Rupa February 16, 2018
Also, this is great over kale! Makes for an excellent one dish dinner.
lschrive January 12, 2012
I too substituted walnuts for pine nuts, just because I couldn't find any at the store! This is a great recipe - first time with charmoula. I love how the charmoula balances out the sweetness of the butternut squash. Normally I salt the water I make the cous cous in, but didn't as after tasting the charmoula. Husband liked this recipe so will make again - maybe with farro?
tota January 11, 2012
This was delicious, even with some substitutions I had to make: no parsley on hand, so I used beetvgreens, sautéed briefly and added at end with sauce. No lemons either, but I used a preserved lemon chopped and put into blender with spices. It was all wonderfully aromatic and very north African in taste. We loved it, and this will definitely be on my go-to list of things to do with butternut squash!
micook January 7, 2012
Made this during the week and liked it a lot (more than my husband). Followed the recipe closely, although I used Israeli couscous. Spicy, which is a real change from most recipes with squash, which tend to veer to the sweet.
ahstone December 14, 2011
Big winner in our family. Easily made on a weeknight, healthy, vegan, and delicious. And " vegan" is not usually a good thing with my twelve-year-old, but she agreed this was pretty darn good ( then she ate a leftover meatball).
tenpenny March 20, 2011
Just made this. While it's a lot of steps, well worth it. Substituted walnuts for the pine nuts. This is delightful.
schlegela March 13, 2011
I thought this dish was great and loved the smokey spin of the smoked paprika. Instead of fregola I used wheatberries as that is what I had on hand!
wisesamsmum March 7, 2011
This is my first foray into the world of Food52---I joined so I could save this recipe, and I just made it, with what I had on hand and a few tweaks (like halving the cumin and adding 1 tsp of coriander, and adding a sprinkling of brown sugar to the squash before roasting). It turned out to be simply outstanding! A well-deserved win, indeed!
Michelle M. March 7, 2011
wisesamsmum :: Welcome to Food52! I'm glad the dish turned out well. And thank you for the sweet words!
Mprize October 28, 2010
Do you cut up/ cube the squash prior to or after roasting? Sounds delicious...will try this weekend.
Mprize November 3, 2010
Well, I figure it out (comments below!) and made it last weekend. People couldn't stop eating it....I could have made double the amount.
Michelle M. November 3, 2010
Mprize :: SO sorry I didn't get back to you sooner (I was out of town, eating my way through another city).

I can't believe I left out that detail! Prior to roasting, I peel the squash with a vegetable peeler, halve it, remove the seeds and then cut it into about 2 1/2-inch cubes.

I am happy to hear it was such a hit. I always make a lot and eat some for lunch the next day...the couscous gets a little tacky, but it is still delicious.

mtrelaun March 16, 2010
I've had my eye on this recipe since it first appeared, and I finally made it tonight for dinner. Talk about rock 'em, sock 'em flavor! It's terrific.
Michelle M. March 16, 2010
Thanks mtrelaun! I'm so happy you liked it!
Jennifer A. January 20, 2010
Congratulations, Porktopurslane! (I noticed we chose the same movie in your Q & A selection - eat drink man woman is one of my very favorites)
Michelle M. January 20, 2010
Thanks Jennifer Ann!

I'm so happy you put fennel in the spotlight! It is so under-used and under-appreciated in the home kitchen.

And yes, isn't EDMW the most fabulous food-movie?!
Maureen F. January 18, 2010
This looks delicious. Am I missing something (entirely possible) or do we need instructions for prepping the squash?
Michelle M. January 18, 2010
mbfant, thanks for bringing this to my attention! You are totally right. In the ingredients list, it should read:

1 medium butternut squash peeled, seeded and cut into a 1 1/2-inch dice
Teri January 16, 2010
Can you use Israeli couscous instead? Not sure I can find fregola sarda in Tokyo.
Michelle M. January 17, 2010
I believe so! I was served Israeli couscous by an Israeli friend of mine, and I couldn't tell the difference between that product and Fregola Sarda (she didn't know the difference either).
Is there anyone that knows the difference? It seems like they are both relatively large-cut, toasted couscous.
Maureen F. January 18, 2010
It looks as though the fregula in the picture is not true fregula, which is indeed made like couscous (though cooked like pasta), but actually a pasta, spaghettoni cut into short lengths, often packaged and sold as fregula.
True fregula is not toasted -- it's sun-dried -- nor is it cut. This is from "Encyclopedia of Pasta":

"Water is sprinkled, a little at a time, over the [durum wheat] flour, which is stirred with a rotary movement until tiny balls no bigger than a peppercorn form. The fregula is gradually sifted from the rest of the flour and left to dry in the sun on a special sieve made of horse hair and covered with a dish towel. When dry, it is cooked in broth."

I don't know Israeli couscous, but the Wikipedia description of how it's made sounds very much like true fregula.
AntoniaJames January 18, 2010
I recently bought some Israeli couscous from our local Middle Eastern market (where, I've been told, you can also get whole goats and lambs, by the way). The product is called "Maftoul." The guys who own the store kept telling me over and over, as I bought it, that it is NOT couscous . . . and indeed, it is exactly like the "pastina" I ate almost every day ("in brodo") when living in Italy. The maftoul must be cooked for about ten minutes, in broth or water (as any pasta). I have no idea how it was made, however, i.e., whether it was left to dry in the sun.
Maureen F. January 18, 2010
Well, the fregula in the picture is a form of pastina rather than couscous, so maybe Israeli couscous has the same problem as fregula, i.e., the real thing is couscous but what is sold commercially is a pastina. BTW all fregula is "sarda" (from Sardinia), and in Sardiinia, it is cooked in broth, usually today with tiny clams called arselle ("wedge-shells"), though traditionally with vegetables or meat broth.
KitchenKim January 19, 2010
The fergola sarda will be arriving any day now...I am looking forward to a taste test between Israeli Cous Cous and the fs. Suzanne Goin's Sunday Supper at Luques has a recipe calling for fergola sarda... I subsistuted Israeli Cous Cous - it was delicious!
Teri January 19, 2010
Thanks everyone. Now I just have to find smoked sweet and spicy paprika. Easier than it sounds...
KitchenKim January 14, 2010
I had been on a hunt to find fregola sarda (which I am using for an upcoming dinner in Feb.) in local stores in Baltimore...I even called some of our Italian markets in the city...and there is NO fregola sarda sold anywhere in Baltimore! But there is on!!! I am looking forward to trying it and I will definitely try your dish! Looks fabulous!
AntoniaJames January 14, 2010
You can get it from A.G. Ferrari, a great SF Bay Area Italian grocer which has been around forever (1919, I think . . . .) They are my go-to resource for groceries imported from Italy. I can walk to one of their shops, and do, often.
cheese1227 January 15, 2010
That is indeed a great store!
Michelle M. January 14, 2010
aargersi - yes! you can put it on anything he usually abhors, and watch him clean his plate. then smile cunningly. :)

mariaraynal - what a sweet thing to say! thank you.

ENunn and Naked Beet - thanks for commenting. I hope you'll try the dish soon! (while butternut is still around)
aargersi January 14, 2010
This sounds great! I will be adding the man-spice to my repetoire :-) My husband loves all of those flavors too
mariaraynal January 14, 2010
It's funny, I saw the title to this dish last week and immediately thought, "this has finalist written all over it." Congrats -- very cool, creative dish.
EmilyNunn January 14, 2010
NakedBeet January 14, 2010
Wow, I love both couscous dishes and am going to have a hard time deciding the vote.