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.


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