LATE March allowed for a brief visit to Marrakesh. Morocco is beguiling: almonds, bougainvillea, citrus and jasmine, camels, chicken and lamb, spices, herbs, woody fragrances. In all, it’s a heady experience. Inspired by their casserole dish, I put together this Lamb and aubergine tagine: meat, vegetables, spices, a little water. The traditional earthenware conical pot is attractive, but any lidded dish does the job, or even a roasting tin covered tightly with tin foil. Ras el Hanout is a distinct spice blend.
450g (1lb) lamb, diced or steaks
3 carrots, chunked
2 sticks celery, chopped
6 tomatoes, quartered
1 large aubergine, diced
2 teaspoons Ras el hanout
330ml (½ pt) water
Roll the meat in some seasoned flour and fry off in oil in a large casserole dish. Remove and set aside. Add a little more oil and fry off the vegetables until coloured, adding the tomatoes and aubergine last. Stir in the prunes with the Ras el Hanout and water. Return the meat to the pan with its juices. Season, combine everything, and either cook on the lowest flame for at least one hour, or longer in a low oven/slow cooker. Serve with pomegranate and pine nuts stirred through fluffed-up couscous.
The day after Morocco it was down to Cornwall for the baptism of baby Pearl at Polzeath. While there, I noticed the local cake delicacy, and, turning to my new spice stash, tried it out as a Moroccan saffron cake.
150ml (¼ pt) full milk
3 cardamom pods
1 star anise
1 pinch (teaspoon) saffron threads
450g (1lb) flour
½ teaspoon salt
7g (¼ oz) sachet of dried yeast
200g (7 oz) unsalted butter
120g (4 oz) light brown soft sugar
120g (4 oz) sultanas
60g (2 oz) candied peel
1 teaspoon mixed spice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey
In a small pan, bring the milk almost to boiling point with the cardamom, star anise, and saffron. Set aside to infuse for 20 minutes.
Mix the flour, salt, and yeast, then rub the butter to form breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, sultanas, peel, and spices. Form a well in the centre, and pour in the honey then the strained milk. Bring this all together in the bowl until it forms a ball, then transfer to a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or so.
Place into a lined, greased 1kg (2lb) loaf tin, cover with a damp tea towel, and leave it to rise for at least an hour in a warm place.
Heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4 and bake for about an hour until you have a browned crust and probably a crack in the middle. Once cooled, cut into slices and serve with butter or clotted cream.