A quest for gastro-liberation, an excuse to buy more cookbooks…

Leave a comment


Were you to ask any of my dearest ones to describe me in a handful of adjectives, I’m not sure that ‘quick’ would number amongst them. Sure, I can come up with a ropey pun or single-entendre at speed. I’ve been known to tumble over my words from time to time. I tend towards speed rather than sloth when in a car. But I am still a girl who didn’t make it past stage three of the beep test in PE at school; I gave up on any instruments which required me to read notation because I couldn’t read and play fast enough; and I’ve only just begrudgingly realised how much I love the music of Taylor Swift. However, this weekend’s cooking has proven to me that haste isn’t the virtuous child.

Slow-cooking is geriatric in terms of gastronomic fads. It was the sort of thing that was being championed by The Guardian when I was but a zygote. However, being wedded to roast chicken as my roast of choice and also only becoming a fan of lamb in recent years, it’s taken me a while to get here. The unrelenting heat of an oven on a low-gas mark does that thing to meat that being fiercely sun-beaten on holiday does to you. It just relaxes. Positively oozes off the bone and pours itself into your gob.


Slow-roast Moroccan lamb with aubergine and chickpea stew

Look, I’ve said “Moroccan” but I have no idea whether that’s accurate or not. That’s just what I had in mind when I was raiding my spice cupboard. I knew I wanted that fierce kiss of heat and the arresting hit of cumin running through the whole thing. To my way of thinking, my mind is led towards Morocco. Indulge me and my wonky geography.



For the lamb

a shoulder of lamb (approx 1kg)

two cloves of smoked garlic

fennel seeds



salt and pepper


For the stew:

two romano peppers

two aubergines

a red onion

two cloves of smoked garlic


chilli flakes


cayenne pepper

a stick of cinnamon

a bay leaf


red wine

a can of chickpeas

two cans of chopped tomatoes

tomato puree

sriarcha sauce

a bunch of mint


Preheat your oven to gas mark 3 / 170c and make sure your lamb is room temperature before you throw it into the oven (you know this already, I KNOW. Sorry for backseat driving in your kitchen). Prepare your spice rub by crushing your garlic in a pestle and mortar with some sea salt. Add in the rest of your spices (I know, I haven’t included quantities. I tend to be bold and heavy-handed on the cumin and chilli. You just want the lamb to get an intensely savoury crust so don’t worry too much.) Combine with a generous glug of oil and smear over the lamb. Put it in to roast for 35 minutes, after which add in a mug of boiling water. You’ll want to roast it for three hours now, turning and basting every hour with the juices from the tin. Add in more boiling water if towards the last hour it all evaporates. After three hours, remove from the oven and let it rest for ten minutes. Don’t throw away the juices, that’s going into the stew.

Speaking of…

For the stew, start by charring the peppers on an open flame (I just stick them directly on the hob. Remember to pierce the peppers with a knife so that they don’t explode.) It’ll take about ten minutes for each pepper; you want to aim for blistered skin which is blackened in patches and for the pepper to be softened. In the meantime, roughly chop the onion and crush the garlic and gently fry in oil along with the spices and plenty of seasoning. Chop up the peppers and add into the pan. Chop the aubergines into generous chunks (bearing in mind that they shrink when cooking) and add in. Fry for a further ten minutes until everything is fully acquainted and coated in the happy mix of oil and spices. Deglaze your pan with a glass of red wine and then add in the two tins of chopped tomatoes. Stir to combine and then add in sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Throw in your cinnamon stick and bay leaf and leave to simmer for an hour. After an hour, add in the drained tin of chickpeas and simmer for a further half an hour, by which point the chickpeas should be soft and the aubergine should have imparted a silkiness to the whole thing. Add tomato puree to thicken and sriarcha sauce for that garlicky-tomatoey-chilli thing that it uniquely has. Once the lamb is out of the oven, add in the juices from the roasting tin. Just before serving, mix in chopped mint. Serve with a wedge of lemon and couscous or pitta bread.



And I’m filo good…


I know, terrible pun which doesn’t quite work as it doesn’t scan along with the song but I promise that this recipe is much better than my headline wit.

Swept along on the winds of last week’s Moroccan challenge, we remain within the same gastronomic climes with a Moroccan roasted vegetable filo pie.

This was a recipe which was borne out of necessity (i.e. hunger and greed). In my experience, most experimental meals borne out of convenience tend less towards happy accidents and more towards a mismatched confection of the dregs of the refrigerator. Whenever I read food writers who trill about successful food accidents, I can’t help but think with a degree of cynicism, “Well, who does have leftover wine/roast potatoes/pasta” lying around (none of these things exist in my universe).

Well, consider myself thoroughly corrected because just before Christmas, I was a girl with some leftover filo pastry. (I do believe I have never written a more middle-class sentence than that).

(Oh wait, I do believe I’m about to top it).

If you, like me, are part of a vegetable box scheme you will know the inevitable point at the end of the week when you end up with a glut of courgettes and carrots. (Because the butternut squash or aubergine, the starlet of the box, is always the first one to go…) This is a perfect solution to your dilemma and justifies the minor inconvenience of seeking out a packet of filo pastry.

Essentially, the filling of this pie consists of all the vegetables which are left lingering, sad and wilted, at the bottom of the vegetable drawer. You know the ones I mean. The floppy carrots which are only good for stock making; the courgettes which you fear have turned bitter; the wizened onion sprouting a Fu-Manchu style moustache. Prune and spruce the runts of your vegetable box as best you can and with the help of some olive oil, cumin seeds, chilli flakes and a hot oven, you are well on your way to a rich, smoky and tender filling fit for a pie. The silky heat of the filling provides a bold contrast to the crisp and buttery filo pastry, combine with a crisp salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil for maximum bliss.


Moroccan roasted vegetable filo pie


serves four greedy people


selection of vegetables for roasting (aubergine, courgette, butternut squash, sweet potato are all attractive suitors for this particular task)

large red onion

couple of cloves of garlic (still in skins)

two generous handfuls of lentils (green, red, puy – take your pick, I’m equal op as far as lentils are concerned. If you prefer your bulk to come from chickpeas then I would not be at all averse to this deviation…)

a tin of chopped tomatoes

cumin seeds

dried chilli flakes

bay leaf (optional)

five or six sheets of filo pastry

melted butter


Preheat your oven to 210c/gas mark 5.

Chop the vegetables and the red onion for roasting into large chunks (bearing in mind that roasted vegetables will shrink and dehydrate – the bigger you chop them, the more moist and tender they will stay). Throw these into a large baking tray with the unpeeled garlic cloves with a generous slug of olive oil and dress with the cumin, chilli, salt and pepper. (The garlic cloves will roast inside their own papery skins and become wonderfully sweet, perfect for adding depth to your tomato sauce later.) Roast for 35 minutes or until cooked and tender.

Once cooked, tip all the vegetables into a large saucepan (make sure to pop the garlic cloves out of their jackets first) and cover with the chopped tomatoes. Fill the empty tin up halfway with water and sloosh around to get the remains of the tomato juice and tip into the pan. Add a bay leaf (if you have it to hand) and two handfuls of lentils. The idea is to cook the lentils by allowing them to absorb the tomato juice – you want the resulting filling to consist of lentils and vegetables just bound by the tomato sauce, rather than a slick of tomato with roasted vegetables bobbing around in it. This will prevent the pastry from getting soggy as well.

Line a non-stick baking tray, tart tin or pie dish with the filo pastry, so that the bottom consists of overlapping layers of filo and with enough overhang to scrunch up on top of the pie.

Pour the vegetable and lentil filling into the filo-lined tin and artfully arrange the top in undulating waves of filo. Brush with melted butter and return to the oven. Bake until burnished and golden, eat whilst hot, salty and crisp.