An Italian cooking in England: food, photography, recipes.

FC&G in trasferta: kefta and eggs tagine

Posted on April 19, 2015

FCG_Morocco_tajine_kefta_aux_oeufs_2It took me two years, but today I finally give you the third and last instalment of my Morocco series. In spring 2013 B. and I travelled around the Country for about three weeks; instead of dividing my posts by location, I decided to split them by overarching themes. The first one is dedicated to nature, landscapes, flora and fauna. The related recipe is a very straightforward one for the ubiquitous Moroccan dessert that is orange with cinnamon and honey. The second one brings together images of contemporary life: people, streets, shops and so on. The recipe I gave you then was one I found throughout Morocco, for a chicken tagine with green olives and preserved lemon. This third and last post is my take on the architectural heritage that is so instantly recognisable as Moroccan (or Northern African at least). There’s the medinas, intense clusters of richly decorated and crumbling buildings. Now I remember each medina by the predominant hue of its walls: white, Ocean-lined Rabat, yellow, wood-scented Fez, red and lively Marrakech. There’s the kasbahs of the desert, their knobbly, scorched terracotta red walls. There’s the ornamental plaster decorations, each so different from the next and yet so similar. There’s the wonderful Volubilis, an entire Roman town unearthed and welcoming you to roam its streets and climb its house walls (careful at the guards and their whistles, though). In the South, along the Ocean, salt, wind and time slowly overpower everything a building is made of: paint chips off, plaster crumbles, stone and brick erode away. The poetry of this decay is almost unbearable at times, although it does highlight the lack of resources put towards the preservation for future generations.

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This tagine was our last dinner in Fez. We were staying in a small family run riad on the edge of the medina. On the last night we decided to dine in and our host’s wife served us a homemade tagine with tiny meatballs and eggs cooked in the tomato sauce. On the same night, a young French teacher on her way back from France was staying there too, so the three of us ate together in the cool, candle-lit courtyard of the riad. We were surrounded by intricately-decorated walls going up four floors. As I dipped the bread in the rich, eggy sauce of this homely and comforting dish, chatting, our voices echoing in the stillness of the night, I felt the heat and tiredness of the day wash off me. It was a pleasure recreating this tagine back home. I used lamb, but beef or a mixture of the two meats can also be used.

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Kefta and eggs tagine

Serves 4. You could serve with a more traditional flatbread, or a portion of less traditional couscous. The chilli is not meant to give heat, just warmth, so adapt amount depending on the heat of your chillies – mine are bird’s eye (we think), so a little goes a really long way. Adapted from North African Cooking, Tagine: spicy stews from Morocco and a few online sources.

Ingredients for the sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
pinch of salt
3 garlic cloves
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 dried chilli
2x tins of chopped tomatoes
1/4 tsp saffron threads
Ingredients for the kefta
500 gr lamb mince
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground sumac
3 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
To serve
4 eggs
fresh coriander and/or mint leaves
ground sumac

For the sauce, warm the oil in a sautee or sauce pan (you will need a lid) on a low heat, then add chopped onion and salt, and slowly sautee until translucent. In the meantime, mince the garlic cloves, cumin seeds and chilli in a pestle and mortar. Add the paste to the pan and stir. After a minute or two, add the chopped tomatoes and saffron, stir and cover. Cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. Turn the heat off and set aside. The sauce keeps in the fridge for a few days, or can be frozen once cold. For the kefta, place the lamb mince in a bowl. Grind the garlic and all the spices in the pestle and mortar, then add the paste to the mince. Add the chopped mint and coriander leaves, and mix until even. Using a teaspoon, form walnut-sized meatballs and place them on a plate or tray. Gently place them in the sauce, bring to the boil then simmer on a low heat for 45 minutes. Depending on how thick your sauce is, you may want to use a lid. If you don’t, I suggest you cover the pot with a splatter guard. To serve, crack the eggs open in the tagine (find 4 snug spots among the meatballs), sprinkle with sumac and cook for a further 15 minutes or until the eggs are poached to your preference. Sprinkle with fresh mint and/or coriander leaves and serve.


Beetroot and thyme soup

Posted on April 6, 2015

FCG_beetroot_thyme_Coup_openingWhen it comes to cooking, I have an approach that’s more similar to my dad’s than to my mum’s. Although I inherited her pragmatic, no-nonsense food shopping habits, on occasions I find myself enveloped in vaguely obsessive, long term explorations of a certain dish, just like my dad does. We both seem to end up focusing on one thing and making it over and over again, with experimental variations and tweaks. It’s not an entirely unhealthy obsession – it slowly develops over time and, bar a few exceptions, there’s good food at the end of it. Take bread, for instance. I remember well my sister’s complaints – I must have been living in Florence then – when she kept finding inedible bricks of stodgy bread that my dad had set his heart on baking. Over the past few years, he’s turned his attention to jams and preserves – thankfully with much more successful results. With me, it’s been a range of dishes, the most prominent of which is probably pizza – something which I’ve improved over time but that I feel I’ll never be perfect at.

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FCG_beetroot_thyme_soup_no_toppingThen, late last year, I got into bringing a salad for lunch to the office with me every day. I’m normally pretty good at preparing my own lunch, only occasionally relying on Pret or one of the salads at the Central Library cafè, but usually that means packing dinner leftovers in a lunchbox or defrosting a bowl of soup. But it felt like I’d seen bowls of substantial and interesting salads popping up everywhere on the internet for months (Sprouted Kitchen and My New Roots are ace at them) and I felt like giving them a go. Never one to gingerly dip my toes into a new habit, I wholeheartedly embraced it and got into the swing of things by roasting up a storm every Sunday evening, cooking enough quinoa or buckwheat to last for 5 days and whipping up batches after batches of dubiously flavoured hummous to splodge onto the salad before closing the lid on the box and packing it in my bag. It lasted for two solid months before I started dreading Sunday evenings – too much work involved. March saw me fall back onto my old love: soups. And since here spring is only just starting to poke her head out, the soups I’ve made over the past few weeks have been firmly winter ones: lentils and parsnips, leeks and fennel, sweet potato and mushrooms, and this one, beetroot and thyme. I’ll be honest, I’m still not convinced by beetroot. Too earthy, although thyme helps. We’ll see how long it takes me to get bored of soups and devote my culinary efforts to something else…

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Beetroot and thyme soup, with a chickpea and walnut topping

Over time I’ve grown to prefer a slightly thicker and smoother version of this soup. This means going easy on the stock – reducing it after blending the soup if needed – and blend it for longer. A mix of golden, red and Chioggia beetroot gives the soup a more complex colour, but the flavour will be the more or less the same regardless of what type of beetroot you use.

Ingredients for the soup
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 kg beetroot, peeled and chopped
2 or 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
chicken or vegetable stock, enough to cover the vegetables in the pot
Ingredients for the topping
1 can of chickpeas
a handful of walnut kernels, broken or roughly chopped
black pepper, freshly ground
extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oil in a large stockpot and gently saute the onion until translucent. Keep the heat low. Add the chopped garlic and stir. After a minute, add beetroots and thyme and stir. After a minute, add enough stock to just cover the vegetables. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Cook for half an hour or until the beetroot pieces can be easily pierced through with a fork. Take off the heat, fish the thyme sprigs out, blend the soup until smooth, then return the thyme sprigs in the soup and, if necessary, adjust the consistency by either adding more stock or reducing it on a low heat. In the meantime, prepare the topping by dry frying on a very low heat the drained and rinsed chickpeas. When crunchy, add the walnuts briefly to warm them up. Serve the soup in bowls, grind some black pepper, drizzle some good extra virgin olive oil and add some of the topping.


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