|Alternative names||Israeli couscous, Jerusalem couscous, Pearl couscous|
|Place of origin||Israel|
Ptitim (Hebrew: פתיתים, literally 'flakes') is a type of toasted pasta shaped like rice grains, little balls, or multiple other shapes developed in Israel in the 1950s when rice was scarce. Outside Israel, it is typically marketed as Israeli couscous, Jerusalem couscous, or pearl couscous. In Israel, it originally became known as "Ben-Gurion rice" (Hebrew: אורז בן-גוריון, órez Ben-Gurion), though it is mainly called "ptitim" nowadays.
Ptitim was created in 1953, during the austerity period in Israel. Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, asked Eugen Proper, one of the founders of the Osem food company, to quickly devise a wheat-based substitute to rice. Consequently, it was nicknamed "Ben-Gurion rice" by the people. The company took up the challenge and developed ptitim, which is made of hard wheat flour and toasted in an oven. The product was instantly a success, after which ptitim made in the shape of small, dense balls (which the company termed "couscous") was added to the original rice-shaped ptitim.
Ptitim is made by extruding dough through a round mold, before it is cut and toasted, giving it the uniform natural-grain-like shape and its unique nutty flavor. Unlike common types of pasta and couscous, ptitim was factory-made from the outset, and therefore is rarely seen home-made from scratch. The store-bought product is easy and quick to prepare.
Ptitim is popular among Israeli children, who eat it plain, or mixed with fried onion and tomato paste. Ptitim is now produced in ring, star, and heart shapes for added appeal. For health-conscious consumers, whole wheat and spelt flour varieties are also available.
While considered a children's food in Israel, ptitim is sometimes used in dishes even at the "trendiest restaurants" in other countries. In the United States, it can be found on the menus of contemporary American chefs, and can be bought in gourmet markets.
Ptitim can be used in many different types of dishes, both hot and cold. The grains retain their shape and texture even when reheated, and they do not clump together. Commonly, ptitim is prepared with sautéed onions or garlic (vegetables, meat, chicken or sausage can also be added). The ptitim grains may be fried for a short time before adding water. They can also be baked, go in soup, served in a pie, used for stuffing, or made as a risotto. Ptitim may also be used in other dishes as a substitute for pasta or rice. American chef Charlie Trotter has produced a number of recipes for ptitim-based gourmet dishes, even as a dessert.
Pearl-shaped ptitim is very similar to the Ashkenazi Jewish farfel, which was brought to Israel by Ashkenazi Jews from Europe beginning in the 1800’s. Farfel was likely ptitim’s predecessor, as the two are very similar and are often substituted for each other.
Ptitim is also coincidentally similar in shape to the Levantine and North African pearled couscous which pre-date it, known as maftoul or moghrabieh in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian territories and Syria. While the Levantine dish is a coated couscous, ptitim is an extruded paste, and the two are very different in terms of taste and preparation.
The ptitim variety may also resemble some products of the pastina family, in particular acini di pepe, orzo ("risoni") and stellini. However, unlike pastina, the ptitim grains are pre-baked/toasted to give them their chewy texture and nutty flavor.
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