Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lamb Tagine with Honeyed Pumpkin


When I told people about the amazing lamb tagine recipe I had made this weekend which, in my usual fashion, I described as "easy if you've got a spare four hours to potter around the house while it cooks", a lot of people gave me sceptical looks.  "Don't you need a special pot for that?" they asked.  "Four hours, that sounds complicated."  But here's the thing - other than the investment of time waiting while it simmers, a tagine is really just a yummy stew.


It's not that difficult, honest, and you can do it in a cast iron casserole pot!  No fancy tagine required!  It's lovely if you can present the final dish at the table with a flourish of the conical tagine lid, but for the four years before my wonderful mother gave me my first proper tagine pot, I cooked some fabulous tagine dishes in my Le Creuset.

I am a big fan of tagines, as any scan of my blog will show you.  No scratch that, I am a big fan of Moroccan cuisine and what's not to love about a tagine?  You add ingredients and liquid, set it at a low simmer and wait.  A fancy stew by any other name.

Now, this tagine is a slightly more complicated version in four ways.  Firstly, you have to grate half the onion instead of simply dicing it.  Secondly, halfway through the simmer you have to add some ingredients.  Thirdly, you have to grate a butternut pumpkin and cook it down to a deliciously caramelised mush and, finally, you have to bake the tagine in the oven for the last 40 minutes.  That's it.  So if you have a lazy afternoon of chores (or DVD watching) in mind and you want to really impress your guests, this is the dish.  (If you're looking for a slightly simpler version, try my Lamb Tagine with Dates & Dried Figs recipe...)


Before I move onto the recipe, I would just like to add that this wonderful Paula Wolfert recipe has been (mildly) adapted from her "The Food of Morocco" cookbook, which I highly recommend to you if you have the slightest interest in Moroccan cuisine.

I'd also like to note that all the phaffing about with setting up your food processor to speed-grate the onions and pumpkin was totally worth the effort.  I do love using the odd kitchen power tool and the final dish was incredible.  The lamb was melt-in-your-mouth tender, the pumpkin added a hint of sweetness without being too much and blended beautifully with Wolfert's spice mix - cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, pepper - and, of course, saffron.  Please give it a go one rainy afternoon.


Lamb Tagine with Honeyed Pumpkin

-  1 kilogram diced lamb shoulder
-  1 whole medium-sized butternut pumpkin (squash to our American cousins)
-  1 large onion, grated
-  2 medium onions, sliced into rings
-  1 pinch of saffron, soaked in 1/4 cup hot water
-  Salt and pepper for seasoning
-  2 teaspoons spice mix:  1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground turmeric, 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, pinch of ground (or freshly grated) nutmeg
-  2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
-  Pinch of ground cinnamon
-  Pinch of ground ginger
-  2 tablespoons honey, preferably floral for example acacia or orange blossom
-  2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts for garnish (I forgot to add these, but had them with the leftovers - yum!)

First things first.  Toast your pine nuts - you can do this in a nice hot frypan (no oil necessary) or, as I do, in a glass bowl in the microwave 1 minute at a time on high.  Keep an eye on them, no matter what method you use, they turn toasty brown in an instant and then black in quick succession!

Next, mix up your spice mix in a bowl, ready to use.  Then soak your saffron in hot water in a separate bowl.  Set these aside.




Now, slice up your two medium onions into thin rings for later.  Slice and peel the butternut pumpkin, discarding the seeds and pulp in the centre, and peel and halve your onion.  This is the point where, if you have one, I highly recommend you set up your food processor with the grating blade.  You could hand grate your pumpkin and onion but it will take a lot more effort than washing up your food processor... and more than a few onion-related tears, I am guessing.




Grate your onion, set aside.  Then grate your pumpkin and pop it in a colander over a bowl with a sprinkling of flaked or coarse salt (eg Maldon) to help make the pumpkin sweat a little.  Leave it alone while you get to work on the lamb.


Put your tagine or cast iron casserole pot on a low heat on your stove and add 2 teaspoons of butter.  When it has melted, add the grated onion and 1.5 tablespoons of your spice mix and stir until combined - it will turn a wonderful orange-brown colour.  Next, add in the lamb, your saffron and the water you've soaked it in, and another 1/2 cup water (should be enough to cover the about two-thirds of the lamb).  Stir to combine, cover with the lid and leave to simmer on a low heat for 1.5 hours.  This is the time to put on a DVD or do some household chores.  Just make sure it stays on a very low simmer.


When the 1.5 hours have passed, add the sliced onions to the lamb and stir.   Cover again and continue to cook for another 1.5 hours.  Now, don't just run off and pop on another movie - in about 45 minutes you'll need to deal with that grated pumpkin.

Take your grated pumpkin and rinse under the tap.  Now, squeeze the water out of the pumpkin into a bowl.  Reserve about 2 tablespoons of the liquid and discard the rest.  It should be tinted a beautiful orange colour.


Set a heavy-bottomed frypan on your stove and add the grated pumpkin, the 2 tablespoon of reserved liquid, a pinch of ground cinnamon and ginger and cook on a low heat for approximately 45 minutes, stirring from time to time.  This should look something like "jam" according to the recipe.  I thought it looked more like a sticky mash pumpkin!  Now, preheat your oven to 210 degrees Celcius and take your tagine off the heat.


Transfer half the liquid from your tagine into your honeyed pumpkin and stir in.  Spoon the pumpkin mash over the top of your tagine and smooth the top - it's like a Moroccan shepherds pie!  Stud the top of the dish with the left over 1 tablespoon of butter and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the pumpkin top is caramelised and crisped (but not burned).


To serve, sprinkled the pinenuts on top and serve with a flourish of your conical tagine lid at the table.


I should note that I forgot to sprinkle the pinenuts over the final dish on the night when I served this to a bunch of appreciative friends, but they seem not to have been that bothered by it.  However, I did try the leftovers with pinenuts and it really does add something.  So don't forget them!  Oh, and that's my sweet potato mash on the plate - a pretty amazing combination.


Friday, January 20, 2012

My Top Four Ingredients of 2011

When I think back on the last year of cooking and eating, I think in terms of the ingredients I have most enjoyed using and tasting.  These ingredients have also - as you'd expect - been reflected in the posts of 2011.  In many respects, finding new foods and flavours is how I expand my repertoire of recipes and discover new dishes.  So, here they are, my top four ingredients of 2011.

1.  Coconut

Shredded.  Shaved.  Coconut milk.  Coconut cream.  Coconut frosting, powdered, toasted and desiccated.



 I have used coconut in vegetarian green curries, Thai pomelo salads and (of course) in cupcakes.  In many respects 2011 was my Year of the Coconut.  The only form of coconut I haven't be able to find since I left South East Asia is fresh, young coconut - I love these with the tops sliced off, sipping the clear juice with a straw and then scooping out the sweet, gelatinous flesh.  It doesn't get a whole lot better.


If you'd like to taste a little bit of my favourite new ingredient of 2011, check out Penny's Lemon & Coconut Tart or my Coconut Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting.  Perhaps some Coconut Bread for your Sunday brunch?  Or add some coconut cream to your pumpkin soup when the weather turns cold - I highly recommend it!


2.  Saffron

In addition to tinting a dish a lovely orange colour, the fragrance of this spice is for me the scent equivalent of mead - golden, sweet and delicious.  While not dominating a recipe, it adds terrific layers of flavour that are really very subtle.  When I did a wine tasting course last year I realised just how often the whites I love have often have the scent of saffron to them.

The best example in my repertoire of a saffron-flavoured dish is the lamb tagine with dates from Claudia Roden's Arabesque cookbook.  The dish is served piping hot over a plate of fluffy couscous, redolent with the scent of saffron wafting up as you eat.  What's not to like?




I am also about to upload a brand new lamb tagine recipe which uses saffron water - the result of pouring hot water over a pinch of saffron strands - and grated pumpkin.  It looks amazing, so I'll let you all know how it goes.

3.  Cinnamon

What is not to love about cinnamon?  Truthfully, this spice features on my list of Top Four Things of All Time.  It's up there with fresh sheets and rainy days on the couch reading a good book.

Cinnamon has always featured pretty heavily in all my cooking - from tagines (yep, right up there with saffron) to ice cream and, of course, muffins.  Check out the post on Buttermilk Choc-Chip Muffins - without the ground cinnamon these beauties would only taste (and smell) half as good.  The Tarte Tatin would also be a lesser dish without the addition of this versatile spice.  The Sugar 'N Spice Loaf is pretty damn terrific too, piping hot and straight from the oven.  Just saying.



4.  Lemon Zest

There's a bit of a theme to my top four ingredients - they are all the types of ingredients which help amp up the flavour of a dish, but not the showponies jockeying for dominance in the mix.  Always the bridesmaid, but rarely the bride.  I guess that's why I love them so much.  Is your plain cake a bit, well, plain?  Add some lemon zest.  Ditto for your icing - leave out the vanilla, add in a teaspoon of lemon juice and a teaspoon of zest.  You won't be sorry.


One of the dishes in which lemon zest really stepped out and hogged the limelight a little this year was my Gluten-Free Lemon Curd Cheesecake.  I can hand on heart say that this is one gluten-free dish which is better than the gluten-full version - the base was outstanding, nutty and held together without being either too crumbly or too hard to sink your fork through.



I have so many plans and schemes for Four Figs in 2012.  Of course, lemon zest, cinnamon, saffron and coconut will stay on high rotation, but I am also keen to extend my Asian cuisine repertoire, embrace unusual flavour combinations in my baking and bring you more of my favourite savoury dishes.  I can't wait for the cold weather to arrive so I can spend the weekend whipping up an authentic cassoulet just like we sampled in Kate Hill's kitchen in October.  So much to look forward to.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Berry & Cherry Tiramisu


So there was a little bit of pre-Christmas debate about what I would make for dessert on Christmas Day.  It came down to two options; the panettone bread and butter pudding  (which I featured last week) or my berry & cherry tiramisu.  In the end I went with both!  These two desserts can be made in advance - always a bonus - and with both available there was something for the folks who wanted a hot dessert and something for the folks who wanted something creamier and colder on Christmas Day.


I love the berry variation on the traditional coffee-flavoured tiramisu.  It seems so festive when you slice into it and all the red splashes of raspberries and cherries are revealed amidst the mascarpone cream and soaked sponge biscuits.  But the inspiration for this recipe is actually the home-made cherry brandy that the sponge biscuits are doused in.

I make my own every year.  Now by "make", I don't mean I am distilling bootleg brandy in my garage.  Instead, I buy a fairly cheap brandy and mix it with 1 kilogram of cherries and a 1 cup of white sugar in a jar, then I leave it to its own devices for a couple of months in the back of my pantry.  I stir it up once in a while, sloshing the mason jar from side-to-side, but it's otherwise a pretty simple process.   My first batch of cherry brandy was an attempt to recreate some given to me by a friend who'd bought it from a elderly man on the side of the road somewhere in Greece.  Obviously, I couldn't buy it again, so I attempted to make my own.


After making your own cherry brandy the inevitable question is - what on earth am I going to do with it?So, when I was looking into recipes, I came across a tiramisu recipe of Donna Hay's that I adapted freely to my own cause and the rest, as they say, is history.  I have made this dessert for two orphan's Christmases in Jakarta, always to great acclaim.  I hope you enjoy it as much.



Berry & Cherry Tiramisu

- 300 grams cherries
- 250 grams raspberries (I prefer fresh, but frozen is A-OK)
- 500 grams mascarpone
- 1 3/4 cup whipping cream
- 1 cup cherry brandy (or replace with muscat or dessert wine)
- 1 packet Italian sponge finger biscuits
- cocoa powder to dust before serving

If you are using fresh cherries, now is the time to pit them.  I now use a German cherry pitter I bought at Essential Ingredient, which makes the job easier (if not less messy).  Alternatively, just slice the cherries in half and remove the pit.  If you are using frozen berries and cherries, now is the time to pop them in a bowl and defrost them.




Whip the cream until it forms peaks and then fold through the mascarpone.  Set aside.


Pour your cherry brandy in a shallow dish - I sometimes use a pyrex pie dish.  Next, one-by-one, dip both sides of your sponge finger biscuits in the cherry brandy so it soaks up the liquid.  Lay them next to each other in the base of your (approximately 7 inch x 7 inch) serving dish.




When you have a layer of biscuits along the base of the serving dish, layer your berries across the biscuits, then cover with a layer of cream.  Repeat another biscuit layer, then a final layer of cream.  Smooth the cream on the top layer, but don't be too fussy - you're going to sprinkle this with cocoa powder anyway.



The tiramisu must now be covered with cling film and refrigerated overnight.  This is why this is such a great dessert to make ahead.  The flavours intensify and the dish firms for easy cutting while it sits in your fridge as you sleep.



When you are ready to serve, use a sieve or small mesh tea strainer to sprinkle cocoa powder over the top.   Then cut and use a cake server or spatula to serve up the slices.  This recipe should give you nine small serve or six huge serves.  I prefer to reserve some of the berries to serve on the side of the dish.  And, of course, a small port or sherry glass of cherry brandy or sweet dessert wine complements it perfectly.