Monday, May 21, 2012

Great Moroccan Lamb Dish...and Easy!

In Moroccan cuisine, the word “tajine” refers both to a cooking vessel, and to the stew cooked in it. The vessels are typically made from earthenware, with a domed top so the cooking vapors will condense on the inside and fall back into the dish. It simply has to be seasoned by first soaking in water, then filling with water and heating in the oven.  Then the unglazed areas are rubbed with a little olive oil and it's ready to go!
                I’d been wanting one for a while, and finally my husband got me one as a gift. Quite lovely, it can go right onto the stove top with a diffuser, and I’ve used it several times. I love the way it looks on the table, and in fact have it sitting on a shelf in the kitchen when I'm not using it, so all my friends can admire and covet it.
                Recently we had out of town guests coming and I wanted something interesting that wouldn’t take a lot of time.  Going through my files, I found one for a lamb meatball tajine that had those qualities.
                I served it with rice, but a more typical side dish would be couscous. You can find a pre-seasoned mix for that in any grocery, and it would cut down on prep time, since it’s ready in about five minutes. With a salad and some crusty bread for sopping up the juices, you can have a great meal for your guests in about 45 minutes.

Moroccan Lamb Meatball Tajine

2 lbs. ground lamb
2 large onions, very finely chopped, divided
3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cardamom
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 tbsp. peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
1 jalapeño pepper, seeds and veins removed, very finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed, finely chopped
Juice and finely grated zest of two large lemons
2 cups beef stock
2 lemons, washed and quartered, for garnish
Additional cilantro leaves, for garnish.

                Preheat oven to 350o. Mix the lamb, half the onion and remaining meatball ingredients together well.  Form into 1” balls and place in one layer on a foil-lined baking pan. Bake for about 15 minutes. Reserve.
                Meanwhile, in your cooking pan of choice, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the remaining onion, the ginger and the jalapeño and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and zest and the beef stock.  Season lightly with salt. Add the meatballs carefully, with any juices that have accumulated on the baking pan. Bring just barely to a simmer.  Lower the heat a bit, cover and cook for about 15 minutes.  Serve garnished with cilantro and lemon quarters. Serves 6 to 8.

NOTE #1:  If you don’t have a tajine (and most people probably don’t), a heavy lidded Dutch oven would work equally well.

Note #2: If you like a spicier dish, leave the seeds and veins in the pepper. If you have an asbestos palate, use two or more jalapeño peppers.

 Note #3: This reheats beautifully so if you like, you can make it a day ahead.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, May 07, 2012

Lemon-Herbed Chicken Pasta

Last week a friend from out of town called and said she was coming through Memphis. I immediately invited her to dinner. Looking through the contents of the fridge, I found a couple of grilled chicken breasts. That afternoon I had pinched the tops off my recently planted basil plants to encourage them to bush out so I had a nice little bunch. And as anyone who has a mint patch almost certainly knows, my mint was already hale and hearty, so I snipped a good handful of that as well.

Although we don’t think of mint as typical of Italian cooking, some sources claim it to be the most widely used herb all over the country. If you google “mint in Italian cooking” you’ll come up with a lot of suggestions from almost every region. And it teams very nicely with basil, the herb you probably think of as the most common in Italian cookery.

I cut the grilled chicken into about 1/2-inch chunks, zested and juiced a couple of lemons and pulled a bag of frozen peas from the freezer. With a bit of sautéed shallot, we had a great sauce for pasta in a very short time. With a green salad and crusty bread, it made a lovely dinner.

I think this would also be great with shrimp, sautéed briefly in the olive oil after the shallots have softened, and then finished as in the recipe.

I really liked the grilled flavor of the chicken in this dish, but it would be equally good if you had leftover roast or poached chicken. About half a purchased rotisserie chicken would give you enough for this dish. Either way, you’ll have a great dish for spring guests.

Italian-Inspired Lemon-Herbed Chicken Pasta

¼ cup good fruity olive oil
1 small shallot, finely minced (about three tablespoons)
3 cups cubed or shredded cooked chicken
1 10-oz. bag frozen peas, thawed (see note)
Juice and finely grated zest of two large lemons
3 tbsp. (packed) each slivered fresh basil and fresh mint
12 oz. linguine
Freshly grated pecarino romano or parmesan cheese, to finish

In a heavy pan large enough to hold the pasta after cooking, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add the chicken. peas and lemon juice and zest and cook until just heated through.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in plenty of well salted boiling water until barely al dente. Scoop out a cup of the pasta water and reserve. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the hot chicken mixture. Sprinkle the fresh herbs over the top and toss to combine. Add enough pasta water to moisten. It will probably take about ½ cup. Divide among four flat soup or pasta bowls and serve immediately. Pass the grated cheese at the table. Serves four.

NOTE: You are likely to find fresh peas at the farmers’ markets this time of year. If you do, shell and blanch them about five minutes in boiling water before adding them to the chicken mixture.

Posted by Picasa