Monday, August 3, 2009

Autumn Tagine

A tagine is a Moroccan dish akin to a stew but a lot better looking. That's because the ingredients are arranged with care into a teepee shape, and cooked slowly in a distinctively shaped tagine pot. The moisture rising from the humble ingredients is condensed by the dunce-cap lid and then percolates down through them, yielding a darkly mysterious flavor. The pots are available through the Internet, but don't expect to be able to place them on a stove. I've cracked two bases over a low gas flame and now simply place the cone-shaped top on top of a large skillet.
This recipe is based on a tagine we enjoyed in Taffroute, Morroco. It takes advantage of late-season root crops, which can be a challenge to preparte imaginatively. The procedure is time consuming, both in preparation and on the stove, making this a good dish for a special dinner party. Serves six.

2 large onions, chopped
6 parsnips, quartered lengthwise
2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise
2 carrots, quartered lengthwise
6 medium potatoes, cubed
2 turnips, cubed
1 rutabaga, cubed
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
12 cherry tomatoes
12 pitted prunes
12 kalamata olives
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 lime, halved
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup almonds, toasted

Prepare the vegetables. In a bowl, combine the ginger, the 8 spices listed after it, and the salt. Set aside. Coat the bottom of the skillet with the olive oil. Make a layer of the potatoes. To prevent the onions from blackening, mound them on top of the potatoes. Symmetrically assemble the prepared vegetables in a pyramid, sprinklin the dry spices over the them as you go. Evenly distribute the cherry tomatoes, prunes, and olives over the pyramid.

Pour 1/4 cup water over the top, followed by the vinegar, lemon juice, and juice of half a lime. Distribute pats of butter here and there. Perch the remaining lime half on top like the cherry on a sundae. Cover, and cook over very low heat for 4 to 6 hours, or until the root vegetables are entirely tender when poked with a fork. Look under the lid from time to time and add another 1/4 cup water if the pot seems dry at the bottom. Toast the almonds and distribute them over the top of the tagine just before serving. And broth in the bottom of the pot can be spooned over the tagine. Serve hot with couscous or rice and yogurt.

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