Friday, 25 April 2008

The grilloux are back!

At last the weather has returned to being 'vraiment tee-shirt', as the normally dour forecaster on Radio France Inter described it this morning. It's been unseasonably cold and rainy since Easter - or at least it feels as though it has. Why the sudden change? Nothing whatsoever to do with the anti-cyclone over the Atlantic. No, it's quite clearly because we've finally got round to buying and setting up our water recuperators. Voilà.

So yesterday evening we had dinner outside, for the first time this year. I'm a creature of the outside at heart - I'm sure I was never meant to live inside four walls - and the weather over most of this winter and early spring has meant that we've managed to have breakfast and/or coffee and/or lunch in the garden probably two days out of three. But dinner ... well, that's a seasonal milestone. We ate to a bright red sunset over the mountains, followed by the twilight chorus of the birds; the stars came out, the frogs croaked, and then the grilloux started chirping. And we ate one of my favourite things:

Roast aubergine and chick pea tagine

Actually this is a slightly simpler version of a dish I used to cook for the restaurant. Its flavour, though, belies its simplicity. For 4 people you need:

3 aubergines, diced into 2cm squares
2 red peppers, ditto
3 onions and 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
half a lemon, diced into tiny cubes
a handful of dried apricots, chopped
2 tablespoons of (each) coriander seed, cumin seed, fennel seed
a tablespoon of black peppercorns
one stick of cinnamon
half a teaspoon of black cardamom seeds
2 whole star anise
about a tablespoon of (each) ground ginger and sweet paprika
about a teaspoon of (each) harissa (or cayenne pepper) and turmeric
a tin of diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons of tamarind paste
a large tin (600gm) of chickpeas, or soak and cook your own if you've got time (I didn't).

Roast the aubergine and peppers at around 190C for 45 minutes, until they're slightly charred - this is what really brings out the flavour. Meanwhile grind the whole spices; if you've time to dry roast them first, even better. Add the ground spices, plus a teaspoon of sea salt, to make an aromatic mixture. Fry off the onions and garlic, then add the spice mix and fry for a minute. Add the lemon and the dried apricots and fry for another two or three minutes, then add the tin of tomatoes, bring to a simmer, then add the tamarind paste and the chickpeas. Add some water (about as much as you can get into the empty tomato tin) and cook for ten minutes or so, by which time the roast veg should be ready. Add these to the pan and simmer everything together very gently for at least half an hour to blend the flavours.

We ate this last night just with some simple buttered couscous, a dish of harissa and some preserved lemon (I would have added some fresh coriander, but ours is refusing to grow for some reason). But a couple of chargrilled merguez or lamb steaks would really set it off ...

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