I do hope your Christmases went well, everybody, and that you’re still enjoying those turkey sandwiches. Don’t forget, though, that turkey makes an incredible stock, ideal for risottos, soups and stews in the New Year, so don’t just bin the bird or bestow it upon a domestic pet.
Chop a few carrots, onions and celery sticks, break up the carcass, add a little wine and lots of water and let it simmer gently for a couple of hours on the stovetop. You’ll have a rich, tasty stock in no time at all. Freeze it in batches for whenever you need chicken stock in a recipe.
And so, we now turn our attention to the New Year. Politics aside, I’ve had a good 2017, and it’ll be nice to bid it adieu in the company of good friends and far too much alcohol.
I’m keeping it simple for my New Year’s dinner – in fact, the ragù sauce for our pasta is already made and in the freezer (Tracy makes the most delicious duck ragù – I must ask her if she’d ever consider sharing the recipe for one of these pieces!) but for some people, the few relaxed days leading up to the 31st allow for a bit of culinary experimentation.
With this in mind, I thought I’d try a recipe that I’ve cooked a few times, always with great results. An online discussion recently reminded me of this dish, and we mused upon how every country has its own preferred version of a sweet/savoury flavour.
Some countries have a much stronger liking for the myriad combinations of salt and sugar – the USA for instance, with its love of maple and bacon and the traditional marshmallow-topped sweet potato mash that accompanies the Thanksgiving turkey.
In Italy, the use of agrodolce (literally sour-sweet) in dishes is common – often a simple combination of caramel and vinegar with herbs and spices to be drizzled over vegetables and cooked meats. The subcontinent has its famous combinations of hot curries with cooling pickles and sweet chutneys, and here in the UK we are partial to a slice of mousetrap cheddar with our fruitcake.
A trip to the cinema isn’t complete for me without a bag of popcorn, half sweet-half salty. Care must be taken with such things – it’s all in the balance – but when it’s right it’s magical. And this recipe, a North African classic, is unique in its use of combined sweet and savoury flavours.
B’stilla is a filo pastry pie containing highly-spiced shredded pigeon and aromatics, bound with a little egg and ground almonds, and baked to golden, crunchy perfection before being liberally doused with icing sugar and cinnamon. The combination works so well, a carnival of intense flavours and textural sensations.
It originates in Andalucía, where it’s known as Pastilla, but since crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, it’s taken on legendary status in the countries of the Maghreb. Spices moved into the recipe, as did the addition of that essential dusting of cinnamon and sugar. There’s nothing like that unforgettable combination of deeply-spiced pigeon, crunchy pastry and sweet cinnamon-y sugar.
As an accompaniment, I made up a little sweet-savoury salad made with shredded carrot, lemon, honey and spices. It’s a refreshing, cooling and crunchy combination that sits well alongside the hot, spicy pie. Do give this recipe a go – it’s an absolute taste sensation. A note here – if you don’t fancy pigeon, try chicken or perhaps even leftover roast lamb around which to build your b’stilla. I reckon it’d work every bit as well.
And all that’s left now is to wish you all a very happy New Year. Cheers!
For the b’stilla:
6 oven-ready woodpigeons
1 carrot, chopped roughly
1 onion, chopped roughly
2 sticks celery, chopped roughly
800ml strong chicken stock
3 free-range eggs, beaten
3 tbsp Extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
1 tbsp ras el hanout spice mix
½ tsp chili flakes
A pinch of saffron, soaked in 1 tsp. boiling water
1 small bunch coriander, chopped
3 tbsps. finely-chopped flatleaf parsley
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
270g packet of filo pastry
125g ground almonds
30g icing sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
For the salad:
6 carrots, tops trimmed
2 tbsps olive oil
1 onion, finely minced
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
20g fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp lemon juice
100g pomegranate seeds
1 x 9” springform cake tin
1 packet unsalted butter
Baking tray and tinfoil
First, clarify the butter by warming it over the gentlest heat without stirring. When completely melted, skim off any scum, and pour the clear butter through a fine sieve into a clean pan, stopping before the milky solids at the bottom. Now for the b’stilla; toast the ground almonds in dry pan until deeply golden, and set aside.
Prepare the pigeons next; sweat off the carrot, onion and celery in a little olive oil in a deep casserole. Add the pigeons and the stock, bring to boil and then reduce to a slow simmer.
Cook, covered, for a couple of hours, or until the meat will flake from the bone with ease. Strain the liquid and set it to reduce by half in a clean pan. Flake the pigeon meat carefully into a large bowl. Reserve 240ml of the reduced stock and chill. You can freeze the rest for future uses. When the stock is cool, whisk in the eggs and toasted almonds and add to the flaked pigeon meat. In a pan, gently sweat the onion and garlic in the olive oil until golden and soft. Add the ras el hanout mix, chili flakes, and saffron mixture, and cook for a couple of minutes. Tip this into the pigeon mixture. Add the parsley and coriander, check the seasoning, and set to one side. Heat the oven to 200°C / Gas 6. Grease the springform cake tin with plenty of butter.
Unwrap the filo pastry and cut in half widthways – you should have about 14 square sheets. Lay a sheet of filo on a work surface and brush with melted butter. Top with another sheet at 45 degrees and butter again. Lay a third sheet on top and butter this, then ease the pastry into the tin, keeping the edges pressed to the sides of the tin.
Spread a third of the pigeon filling over the pastry in a flat layer.
Repeat the process of pastry layering twice more. Fold the corners of the filo pastry over the filling and top with three or more sheets of buttered filo, and tuck down the sides, ensuring you have a neatly sealed parcel. Wrap the tin loosely with foil and set on a suitable lipped baking tray.
Bake the b’stilla until golden and the filling is set, which should take about 30–35 minutes. Allow the pie to cool slightly, then unmould it carefully and dust thickly with icing sugar and ground cinnamon. To make the salad, grate the carrots into a bowl, and add the diced onion, the spices and coriander. Whisk the olive oil with the lemon juice and honey, and dress the carrots.
Garnish with the pomegranate seeds and serve with generous wedges of hot b’stilla.