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Saturday, 15 June 2013

Paula Wolfert's Fish Tagine, Funkyknuckles style

The parents have gone home so I have time to myself again. I got a beautiful new cookbook -The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert - and it is just wonderful. I've already made Oudi, a clarified butter made by toasting barley grits - I just used coarse bulgur instead - with dried thyme and then melting butter over the mixture. The bulgur pulls the milk solids away magically, so you can just pour the clarified butter off really easily and it also gives a lovely smoky flavour to the finished product. I will be mostly anointing things with this for the next wee while.

I have not yet made the preserved lemons, the tomato confit, the meat confit or any of the amazing sounding breads - but I will. The range of recipes is incredible, there must be half a dozen versions of the old chicken/lemon/olive tagine classic, plus several very different and interesting looking b'stillas. If I only had one Moroccan cookbook (Ha! I have half a shelf of them!) this would be it.

Tonight I made the Fish Tagine with Creamy Onion Charmoula but - as usual - I made several substitutions, mostly because I had no preserved lemons, coriander or courgettes. Fresh lemons, parsley and fennel were perfectly good under the circumstances. The result was excellent, the husband loved it and it was very easy and good. I just bought myself a great big shallow cast iron casserole from Sainsbury's and it works very well if you don't have a cooking tagine.

The charmoula itself is spectacularly good and simple and I would use again and again on chicken or fish.

Fish Tagine with Onion Charmoula

Onion Charmoula:
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin seeds
2 tsp minced garlic & ginger
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Pinch of turmeric, fennel and cinnamon
20g parsley
3-4 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion (coarsely chopped)
Juice of 1 lemon

750g firm white fish (I used seabass & monkfish) skinned and cut into 1" chunks
1 punnet small red ripe tomatoes, halved
750g-1kg small potatoes, quartered
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, peeled, cored, seeded, and diced
Juice of one lemon
1/2 a glass of wine

Juice & rind of a lemon
Olive oil
Chopped parsley

Blitz the Charmoula ingredients until smooth. Divide into two, mix half of it with the fish and marinate for an hour in the fridge.

Boil the potatoes till almost tender, then put them in a shallow casserole or tagine with the fennel, pepper, lemon, wine and the rest of the charmoula. Bring to the boil and then simmer, covered, till tender (about 30 mins).

Spread the marinated fish and the tomatoes over the top and bake uncovered at 200oC for about 15 mins till the fish is cooked. Stir the garnish through and devour. I've adjusted the quantities to suit Irish levels of potato consumption so this needs no accompaniment.


2lb butter
40g coarse bulgur
1 tsp dried thyme or oregano

Toast the bulgur and thyme in a dry frying pan for 5 minutes or so on a medium to high heat till it's golden brown and smells smoky. Put in the butter (chopped up into pats) and let it melt completely without browning or stirring. Take off any scum with a kitchen towel. It will magically separate out into golden butter fat and weird porridgy gloop at the bottom of the pan. Paula Wolfert says you should strain it but I just poured the clarified butter off the bulgur mixture and put it in a jar. Tastes amazing and will be a beautiful topping for all things Middle Eastern.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Il Pirata

My Dad has just come home from Florida for a wee holiday so we enjoyed a typically modern family Sunday lunch (him, me, my husband, my stepmother, stepsister and her wee boy) at Il Pirata, my favourite restaurant.

God, I am SO lucky to have this place at the bottom of my street! I've got the Mandarin City (tremendous high end Chinese with duck a speciality), Little Wing pizzeria,  the Jasmine (ludicrously good Indian BYO) and the Good Fortune (longstanding BYO Chinese of choice for a tasty midweek treat), so spoiled for choice round these parts, but Il Pirata is the one I keep going back to. So much so, in fact, that I haven't even got round to trying out Green's Pizza or that Mexican place which is supposed to be incredible.

The husband was pretty grumpy heading out, muttering something about only having had 5 hours sleep and claiming to be a bit Il Pirata-ed out - fair enough, I've been dragging him down there once a fortnight since it opened. But while it may be possible for him to overdose on the delectable mushroom arancini and beef ragu, I can take any god's amount of fine rustic Italian cookery. Plus on Sundays they have started doing "sharing roasts" so I lured him down the street on that premise.

They still do the porchetta for two (£16) but no one else on the table was up for a hit of fatty, delicious pork belly so I settled on splitting a chicken roast with truffle butter, baby fennel, carrots and peas with roast potatoes (£18 for two). Great stuff - husband was delighted, Dad was happy, ladies were equally pleased. They do half portions of everything for kids and my wee nephew thinks their beef ragu is better than McDonalds. This is the best you can expect from the average seven year old. When I was that age I was mad for the Skandia's whitebait, Chicken a la King and Rhum Baba and I was cosidered to be utterly precocious for that. Considering my staple diet was Findus Crispy Pancakes and reheated stew it was a fair observation.

We finished off with the famous tiramisu and pannacotta and could have sat quite happily for the rest of the afternoon there - it's a great place to bring people for a leisurely meal. Il Pirata really hits the mark every time - the menu has a balance of old favourites and very special specials, the wine list is great (the house Sicilians are top value at £15 a bottle) and the service is great. I've never had a bad meal here and I've had many great ones.