Sundried Tomato and Basil Couscous with Aceto Balsamico

Sundried Tomato and Basil Couscous with Aceto Balsamico

Boston has a neighborhood called the North End. If it was any bigger we’d probably call it Little Italy. There are a gazillion tiny Italian restaurants and pasty shops crammed into a few blocks. There are old men playing bocce ball, people eating gelato, couples toasting with grappa after dinner, and–my favorite–specialty Italian grocery stores.

My sister was in town over the weekend, and she suggested we stop into one of these grocers so she could pick up a few things to take home. I was definitely down with this plan, as specialty food markets make my heart beat a little faster.

In the market I picked up (among other things) a very nice bottle of balsamic vinegar and some imported sundried tomatoes. Much like some wines and cheese, true balsamic vinegar needs to be made in a specific region of Italy using very strict guidelines. I didn’t realize that the vinegar you buy at your regular grocery store is almost certainly not balsamic vinegar, but regular vinegar that has added sugar and food coloring in order approximate balsamic.

That’s not to say that grocery store balsamic is bad. Sometimes it’s quite good. But I didn’t realize how different the two really are until I tried the real thing.

Rubio Aceto Balsamico di Modena and Olive Oil

The bottle I bought is made in Italy specifically for this little grocer I visited in the North End. It’s called Rubio, and it’s aceto balsamico di Modena (which is a good thing). I spent $35 for 8.5 ounces, and believe it or not, that’s a really, really good deal for real balsamic. The highest quality vinegars are in the $100-400 dollar range, and that’s for less than four ounces. See what I mean by $35 being a good deal?

Even if it is a good deal, is it worth it? Yes yes yes yes and yes. It’s fabulous. It’s slightly sweet, tangy, and really… deep. Robust. Indescribable. And while eight and a half ounces doesn’t sound like much, a little goes a long, long way. (If you’re interested, you can order it online here.)

When you have a few high quality ingredients, even a 10 minute lunch (it’s really that fast) is a memorable experience. When you have a few high quality ingredients, the simpler the dish the better. This little couscous number is dead easy, ridiculously quick, and so, so tasty.

Sundried Tomato and Basil Couscous with Aceto Balsamico
Serves two

3 tsp Olive Oil
1/4 tsp Salt
1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Basil
10-12 Oil Packed Sundried Tomatoes, chopped
1 Cup Couscous
1 Cup Boiling Water
1/4 Cup Pine Nuts, toasted
Aceto Balsamico di Modena

Place 1 1/2 cups of water on the stove or in a kettle to boil. In a bowl, mix the olive oil, salt, basil, tomatoes, and couscous until combined. This is what it will look like before you add the water:

Couscous, pre-cook

Measure out 1 cup of boiling water and pour over couscous mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a dry skillet over medium heat and add pine nuts. Stir occasionally until toasted, being careful not to burn. (Right before they begin to brown you’ll see that they become shiny. Don’t walk away because they go from toasted to burnt very quickly!) Set toasted pine nuts aside.

Lightly fluff the couscous with a fork, adding toasted pine nuts. Drizzle aceto balsamico over the top. This may be eaten immediately, but it also is very nice as a room temperature dish.

Sundried Tomato and Basil Couscous with Aceto Balsamico


  1. VeggieGirl

    I LOVE the North End!! I used to go there all the time, when I resided in Boston :0)

    Oh my goodness…. Sundried Tomato & Basil Couscous??? Aceto Balsamico??? DIVINE!!

  2. Ricki

    Gorgeous, gorgeous photos! You clearly have a knack for it.

    I’ve only been to Boston a handful of times, but this post made me nostalgic!

  3. Joanna

    This looks great! I have a tiny bottle of really good balsamic that my parents got for me, but I’m always scared to use it, because what if I don’t use it in the best possible way?? So instead I don’t really use it at all. But I have had some drizzled over fresh strawberries in the summer, and it’s one of the simplest most heavenly desserts EVER.

  4. dalyn

    I have to agree: good balsamic is so worth the extra money. The first time I tried it was at a tasting and I think I may have sopped up half of one of those little bottles with my bread. So, so good.

  5. Kai

    This is making me hungry – I’ll have to try it. If i can find some good basalmic around here.

    By the by, do you have any good recipes for millet or amarath?

    Hii darling! I don’t have any recipes for millet or amaranth of the top of my head… I usually just treat the like rice and use them as a base for other dishes. Hmm… And I can’t wait to see you at Jenny’s wedding!

  6. Judith

    When I become rich (ha, ha) I’m just going to go on a fabulous world tour and eat all the foods that you *have to get* in a particular place from that place, and I’m going to die of foodie happiness. Balsamic is one of those foods. I’m saving all my Gourmets, sticky-noted to remind me of all the food travel I need to do.

  7. Romina

    I like that you specify Aceto Balsamico di Modena, because it’s the best quality (and you can’t substitute it). Delicious! I love sundried tomatoes with couscous. =)

  8. Kate Horowitz

    I cannot wait until this book comes out. I am going to buy lots of copies and send it to my friends and write inside, I KNOW HER!!! I’ll just live through your vicarious awesomeness. And couscous.

    ps Don’t forget to let the Alumnae Quarterly know when this comes out so they can put it in the book section!

    Hey Kate! I didn’t realize anyone from MHC was reading my blog! We took Japanese together, right? I can remember Yamashita Sensei saying, “Horowitz-o san! Genki deska?”

  9. Toxiferous

    I haven’t had much luck with anything I’ve made with sundried tomatoes before but this recipe sounds so delicious I might just have to give them another shot!

  10. Michelle

    Speaking of the North End, have you been to Grezzo yet? I’ve avoided that area of town ever since I went off meat and dairy…but a raw food restaurant is a big deal for Boston. I plan to go soon.

    I have been to Grezzo! Some of the dishes were really amazing (I adored the gnocchi, the ravioli, the green goddess salad and the dessert), but my main course (the lasagna) wasn’t all that great. The service was wonderful and the space is nice. It’s too expensive for regular meals there, but definitely a great experience.

  11. carol

    First I have to say I love your blog! Great stories and recipes. I am newly vegan and have a question about tofu. For the most part every recipe I come across uses a whole package of tofu. I am cooking for me (one person) and I end up with tons of left overs for every meal made with tofu. Can I use half of it in a recipe and save the rest for later? Will it go bad? How long do I have? any help would be great.
    keep doin’ what you’re doin’

    Hi Carol – Unused portions of uncooked tofu can be stored in the fridge, covered in water. You can use covered bowl or a storage container that has a lid. Change the water every day. You can also cook all of the tofu and refrigerate it for a few days to use in sandwiches or other meals. Either way, you probably have three days of storage.

  12. Megan

    Mmm. Looks wonderful!

    I have a question for you. I have been reading your blog for over a year now, and I love it so much. After being very interested in food blogging, I decided to create my own! [The link to it is my URL.] Anyways, I was wondering if I could list your blog in my link list of other really great food blogs. I didn’t want to just add it without asking you first, and seem like a creep. :)


    Of course! Thanks for asking, and good luck with your new blog! – lolo

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  14. Sarah C.

    The balsamic vinegar I buy is the Whole Foods brand, called “Organic Balsamic Vinegar from Modena” – it’s only 4.99 but I thought that the “from Modena” part meant that it was “real” authentic Balsamic vinegar. Are you saying that’s not true?

    I bet your vinegar is from Modena, but whether or not it’s made in the traditional way (aged in various wooden barrels for 12 to 25+ years) is the issue. Perhaps it’s balsamic, but not “tradizionale” — so much work goes into tradizionale balsamic that it’d be impossible for someone to sell it for $4.99. But as I said, even some non-tradizionale balsamics are quite good, so if you like it, use it!

  15. jennconspiracy

    To elaborate on what Sarah C says — traditional balsamic is *not* vinegar (as we know it in the US). If the ingredients list the first ingredient as “red wine vinegar” — then what you have is not true balsamic which contains only grape must.

    Basically, they take a LOT of grapes and cook them down until they are reduced by 50% or more. Then, there is a series of barrels — they remove some liquid from the smallest barrel, and transfer down from the next size up and so on — until they add the newly cooked must to the biggest barrel.

    Making balsamic is rather like sourdough — there are enzymes involved and it is a fermented product.

    Barrels all have to be certified of a certain age and type. Now – you can get balsamic that is not DOP certified because it is not coming from barrels that are quite the right age and you can also get balsamic that is made the same way as DOP certified balsamic (same stuff not certified) but you’re gonna pay more than $35.

    There are some really tasty vinegars — but basically any vinegar that says “aged 10 years” or whatnot is a rip off. That’s all manufactured stuff – it’s got “wine vinegar” as the first ingredient — it’s just not the same. Balsamic vinegar is aged in two brackets “At least 12 years” and “At least 25 years” — because they mix stuff from barrel to barrel in the process, there’s no way to guarantee that everything in the barrel is from the same year (it’s not like there’s a vintage). So – any label that says “8 years aged” or “15 years aged” – is marketing for caramelized red wine vinegar. Still very tasty stuff but…

    Pony up the $100 and get the tiny bottle of the good stuff — true balsamic only comes in one shape bottle and has to have DOP certification on it.


    I just had to tell you that I thanks you from the bottom of my heart for introducing me to you CRISPY SWEET AND SOUR TOFU.
    I made it 2 days ago and I couldn’t get enough.
    I always HATED savory tofu dishes until I tried yours.
    My husband wants me to make this dish at least once a week!
    Thank you again.
    By the way,
    Your blog is awesome.
    I really admire you.

  17. Kristin

    This recipe looks delicious, is it possible to replace the oil packed tomatoes with dried ones that have been soaked for a while? I just bought some organic basil yesterday and would definitely like to try this out.

    Sure. My preference is always for oil-packed (both taste and texture), but rehydrated ones will be fine.

  18. RecipeGirl

    Amazing pictures!

    I recently had the good fortune of shopping in our city’s Little Italy and the shop owners let you taste the vinegars. It was so fun… like wine tasting! I came home with a couple of vinegar treasures.

    Vinegar in couscous sounds like a brilliant idea!

  19. Sophie A

    This looks scrumptious. I’ve never made cous cous, but it’s been on my to-make list for awhile :). Sun dried tomatoes are awesome on anything, but they really beautify this dish :). It’s gorgeous. I love how the pictures just pop right out of my screen…now, if only I could taste it :).

  20. mjc

    oh that looks great. i love aged balsamic vinegar. i have a bottle of 10 year that has lasted me a while, even though i could probably drink it straight up, because its that good. on strawberries! so good.

  21. Forrest

    Long time reader, first time poster :) Of course, excellent photography. But, I’ve got to write, the lead photo is a certain kind of invigorating in a lascivious kind of way :P

  22. oatmeal

    Wow, I never knew that about the vinegar! Guess that tells us we should always read up on the ingredients in the label :s
    The couscous dish has such wonderful colors–very appetizing!

  23. Tori Farbisz

    I think I have only had a real bottle of balsamic vinegar once. It was amazing! It was thick, and tangy, and rich. Now, whenever I have vinegar, it is far to sour.

  24. chanina

    tried this the other day-wow, I’ve found a winner, everything was gobbled down. I love couscous but I’m really tired of it plain, this was fantastic.
    didn’t have balsamic vinegar-it’s really expensive here, but maybe it’ll be worth it!

  25. Kansas Country Girl

    We’re not vegans, or even vegetarians, but do love many vegetarian dishes. I’ve just discovered Israel couscous, and use various couscous dishes (similar to your sundried tomato/basil one above) as “toppers” for mixed baby lettuce salad; saves lots of calories as the dressing or sauce on the couscous is enough to lightly dress a big serving of lettuce.

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  27. Cassidy Stockton

    Just had to tell you, this recipe is amazing!! It’s quickly become a staple in our meal routine. We use whole wheat couscous and just cannot seem to get enough! Thanks for such great recipes.

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  29. Kim

    I tried this recipe with my family and it turned out great! My family also liked it and they tend to stay away from my vegan food. I substituted quinoa for couscous.

    Your website is fabulous! I’m so glad I discovered it!

  30. SunnyVeggie*

    I am a veggie as you’d probably guessed^ I loved this recipe and would reccomend it to anyone willing to try new and interesting recipes.My freind is a bit funny about food, it’s always hard to find food she will enjoy, however she enjoyed this straight off.

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