An autumnal feast for the senses: lamb tagine

Though the summer we all waited so patiently for never materialised, autumn is already creeping in. The mornings are crisp, the nights are drawing in, and last night I wistfully put on a pair of socks for bed.

Though a good summer undoubtedly shakes off the cobwebs and gives me back my spark, I feel strangely reassured by the passage into autumn. Perhaps that’s because – as green leaves turn golden, and golden skin returns to fairer hue – I’ll finally know what to expect of each day. I’ll certainly be able to dress appropriately for the weather, at least. No more heading out to a blue-skied harbourside in shorts and sandals only to return a soaked sailor thanks to surprise, bulging rainclouds.

Of course, easing the transition into autumn is food that goes hand-in-hand with the colder seasons. Rich, red wine stews, warming soups, bramble-filled crumbles, chunky meat pies, and hearty puddings drowned in steaming hot custard.

Yesterday, as a chill crept into my living room, I wrapped myself in up in a blanket and lost myself in Isabel Allende’s Aphrodite; a beautifully-written, tantalising, and luxurious account of aphrodisiacs through the ages, peppered with anecdotes of love and lust – all punctuated with food. Allende’s pen dances like a prima ballerina from sensual Spanish sauces to saucy romantic encounters, and her passion is infectious. It’s a real feast for the senses.

With all the talk of exotic spices, slowly and lovingly crafted into meals that make the heart leap and the tastebuds tingle, I found myself craving one of my favourite dishes – lamb tagine.

I first made this about 18 months ago while I was going through something of a lamb obssession; an expensive habit, but one which brought me endless, unadulterated, succulent joy. Each bubbling cauldron I remove from the oven after 3 impatiently-passed hours is slightly different, depending on what I have in the cupboards and which spices I’ve inevitably failed to replenish. One thing’s for sure, though; every time I take that first bite, I know it was well worth the wait.

Lamb Tagine

Serves 4.

Ingredients

4-6 lamb leg steaks or 400-600g lamb neck fillet

1 medium onion

2 large cloves of garlic

1 & 1/2 tbsp olive oil

1 can cherry tomatoes

1 large courgette, cut into chunks

1 medium butternut squash or sweet potato, cut into chunks

1 pint of lamb or chicken stock

50g dried apricots

1 tbsp ground almonds

2 tsp harissa

(alternatively, add smoked paprika, chilli, and 1 tbsp tomato puree)

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground coriander

Cous cous and/or a hunk of fresh bread or your choosing to serve.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Dice the onion and garlic. Chop the lamb into good-sized chunks, leaving all the lovely, flavoursome fat on.
  3. Brown the lamb in half of the olive oil on a high heat for around 30 seconds, before transferring to a casserole dish/tagine.
  4. Using the same pan, brown the onions and garlic in the rest of the oil with the spices for around five minutes until softened.
  5. Add to the casserole dish. Stir in the cherry tomatoes, stock, and chop up the apricots and throw them in.
  6. Pop it in the oven for at least 1 hr 30, preferably 2 hours.
  7. Remove and add the chopped vegetables, ground almonds and a little water if needed.
  8. Pop back into the oven for at least 30 mins, preferably 1 hour.

Pour yourself a glass of red wine, dunk something doughy and delicious, and enjoy an autumnal feast for the senses.

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