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