the best way to spend a rainy saturday

little bstilla with orange, fennel & olive salad

While I love the sun as much as the next girl, sometimes there’s nothing better than waking up on a Saturday morning to the gentle sound of rain. Dark skies seem to equate to no pressure to be out and about making the most of a beautiful day. Instead they lend an instant license to stay in bed a little longer and plan a day doing one of my favourite things: pottering about in the kitchen.

Last Saturday the rain Gods were smiling so after a slightly soggy run to pick up my car via Bondi, I headed to Fratelli Fresh for a spot of hunting and gathering. With my vegies safely procured, I scurried home with no plans to venture outside again for the rest of the day. There’s definitely an upside to entertaining when the weather is miserable: getting to enjoy the company of your friends without having to leave home.

First task was to get a batch of chicken stock on the boil. With the chicken bones and veg slowly simmering away, I set about putting together a Moroccan inspired feast for my guests, two of whom had travelled to the land of the Kasbahs not that long ago.  As I’ve mentioned previously in these pages, I’m a massive fan of Moroccan cuisine and find it a great choice to cook for guests.

I’ve always read great things about the classic Moroccan celebration dish: Bstilla, a flaky pastry pie generally made from pigeon and served with the unusual combination of cinnamon and sugar.  It seemed the perfect main course for a Saturday night dinner, but rather than trying to track down a purveyor of pigeon I decided to go with the more affordable and readily obtainable option of chicken. I was a bit worried about how everyone would react to the sweet cinnamon sugar in a savoury dish but happily the response was favourable, although it does make wine matching a really tough call.  To accompany the Bstilla what better than another Moroccan classic an orange and olive salad given a crunchy twist with some finely sliced fennel.

For starters I find that soups make an excellent choice, particularly during the cooler months.  They tend to be something you can prepare well in advance and have ready to serve at a moments notice.  Keeping in the Moroccan vibe a green split pea and mint soup seemed perfect.

I often struggle when coming up with a dessert to serve with a Moroccan meal.  They tend to keep things simple with fresh fruit or for a more indulgent meal there are the exotic pastries.  But with a pie as our main course a pastry dessert would have been pastry overkill and I was in the mood for something more substantial than fresh fruit. Matthew Evans’ column in the Good Weekend a few weeks ago provided inspiration for the solution: baked quinces stuffed with nuts and dates.  There’s something deliciously exotic about quinces: their perfume, the furry skin, and the way they turn such a beautiful crimson colour when cooked for long enough… add in a sweet crunchy nutty filling and some cinnamon icecream….all good things…..

a moroccan dinner to rock the kasbah
split pea & mint soup
little chicken bstillas
orange fennel & olive salad
honey baked quinces with macadamia & date stuffing & cinnamon icecream

split pea & mint soup
serves 6 as a starter

This recipe was adapted from one in Grag and Lucy Malouf’s gorgeous book: Arabesque. The mint oil adds an intense minty garlicy kick. It’s best if the mint oil is made the day before so the flavours have time to amalgamate.

200g green split peas, washed and picked
2T olive oil
1 small brown onion, chopped
1 small baby cos lettuce, roughly chopped
1 small clove garlic
1t dried mint
1/2 bunch fresh mint, leaves picked
1L chicken stock (or vegetable if you prefer)
mint oil, to serve (recipe follows)
1T cream, to serve

Heat oil in a large saucepan and cook onion over a low heat until soft.  Add garlic and lentils and lettuce and cook for a few minutes until lettuce is wilted and lentils are slightly toasted.  Add stock and dried mint and simmer, covered for approximately 45mins or until lentils are cooked and falling apart. Add fresh mint and then puree with a stick blender or in batches in a food processor until you have the desired consistency. Taste and season with s&p.

Return soup to the heat and when hot serve in small bowls or ramekins with a drizzle of cream and a few drops of mint oil.

Mint oil. Heat 4T extra virgin olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When hot remove from heat and add 1 finely chopped clove of garlic and 2t dried mint.  Transfer to a small container and allow to infuse at room temperature overnight.

little chicken bstillas
serves 8

This recipe is a conglomeration of a few different sources: Claudia Roden’s Arabesque, Greg & Lucy Malouf’s Arabesque, and one of my favourite food blogs out of Scotland: The Traveller’s Lunchbox.  The idea to serve small individual pies comes from Greg & Lucy and while not traditional it takes the pressure off when serving up and I always think that little pies look cuter.

8 small chicken thighs (or 3 whole pigeons if you’re feeling exotic)
2T olive oil
2 brown onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2t ground cinnamon
2t ground ginger
2t ground cumin
3 small dried red chillis
12 threads saffron
500mL chicken stock
2T dry sherry
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 bunch coriander (cilantro), chopped
10 sheets fresh filo pastry
125g unsalted butter, melted
50g icing sugar
10g ground cinnamon
150g sliced almonds, toasted.
8 sprigs coriander, to serve

Preheat oven to 180oC. Heat olive oil in a heavy based heat proof casserole dish over a medium high heat and cook thighs in batches until lightly browned, remove thighs and then add onion and cook, covered over a low heat until onion is soft but not browned, approx 15mins. Add garlic and spices and cook for a few minutes before returning chicken to pan along with stock and sherry. Bring to the boil and then cover and place in the oven for approx 45mins or until thighs are cooked through. Allow chicken to cool in the broth.

When chicken is cool remove from broth and shred meat into chunks, discarding skin and bones. Skim any excess fat from the top of the broth and then simmer until thickened and reduced to about 1C.  Add eggs and cook stirring constantly over a low heat until mixture is thickened and creamy but not totally scrambeled. Remove from heat and combine with chicken and chopped coriander. Season and refrigerate until required.

To assemble pies, take 1 sheet of pastry and brush sparingly with melted butter. Fold in half, brush with butter and fold in half again. Cut into 4 equal sized strips.  Repeat with another sheet so you have 8 strips.

Take another sheet of pastry and lightly butter. Fold in half, butter and then half again. Place approx 1/8 chicken mixture in the centre of the sheet. Top with one of the reserved strips and then bring the sides up to cover the base. Turn over and pat into a round pie shape and place smooth side up on an oven tray.  Repeat with remaining pastry and filling until you have 8 pies.  Brush the tops of the pies with remaining butter and place in the refrigerator until ready to bake.

Preheat oven to 180oC then bake pies until golden on top and sizzling, approximately 15mins.  To serve, sift cinnamon and icing sugar together and then sprinkle over 8 warmed dinner plates.  Place a pie on each plate to one side and a sprig of coriander next to the pie. Sprinkle pie with almonds and serve immediately.

orange fennel & olive salad
serves 8

This salad echos the sweet and savoury thing going on with the bstilla.  Feel free to mix things up with the type of oranges: navel, blood or even ruby grapefruit. The idea to add fennel to this classic Moroccan salad came from Karen Martini in the Sunday Life section of the Herald and the base salad was inspired by Claudia Roden.

3 oranges
1 medium bulb fennel
1 sm red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup black olives
1 bunch continental parsley, leaves chopped
juice 1 lemon
4T extra virgin olive oil
1t ground cumin
1t sweet paprika
1/2t ground chilli
s&p

Peel oranges and chop into chunks. Remove leafy tops from fennel and very finely slice the bulb to give thin shavings. Combine oranges, fennel, onion and olives.

Make dressing by combining oil, lemon, and spices and mix well. Toss through salad mix and allow to stand for 10mins.  Season with s&p then toss through parsley leaves and serve.

honey baked quinces with macadamia & date stuffing & cinnamon icecream
serves 6

The honey baked quinces are adapted from Stephanie Alexander’s mothers recipe and the stuffing was inspired by Matthew Evans.

Using cinnamon sticks in the icecream gives a lovely subtle flavour and whipping the cream gives a more light airy texture.

3 medium quinces
3T honey
1/4C hater
200g dates, chopped
150g macadamias, chopped
150g almonds, chopped
1T orange blossom water
1/2t cinnamon ground
1T honey150oC then 180
for the icecream
1C milk
1.5 cinnamon quills
75g (1/4C) white sugar
4 yolks
2C pouring cream.

Preheat oven to 150oC. Scrub quinces to remove their fury exterior. Cut in half and place cut side up in a ceramic dish just large enough to hold the quinces snugly. Add water and drizzle quinces with honey. Cover with foil and bake for 2 1/2 hours until quinces are very soft but still holding together.

Combine dates, nuts, cinnamon, orange water, and honey and mush together to form a chunky paste.  Remove quinces from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Increase oven temp to 180oC.  Using a teaspoon and a very sharp knife hollow out the woody core from each quince half.  Divide nut paste between the quinces and return to the oven to bake until the nuts are dark golden brown and toasted.

For the icecream:
Heat milk and cinnamon in a small saucepan until almost boiling. Whisk egg yolks and sugar together until pale and well combined then whisk in hot cinnamon milk. Return to the pan and cook over a medium heat stirring constantly until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not boil.  Remove from heat and allow to cool in the refrigerator.

Whisk cream until just starting to thicken then strain chilled egg mixture into the cream. Whisk until soft peaks.  Freeze in an icecream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

To serve place quinces on a small plate and drizzle with cooking juices. Serve with a generous scoop of icecream to the side.

honey baked quinces with macadamia & date stuffing & cinnamon icecream

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