Friday, 30 October 2009

The Jack O'Lantern and Tagine of Lamb with Pumpkin

The Jack O'Lantern originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul.

The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavoury figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, simply "Jack O'Lantern."

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips, swedes ore mangelwurzels and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits.

Pumpkin is a favourite food of the French with many recipes originating from the 1500s. However I have chosen one that combines the cuisine of the Maghreb (Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria) with France's penchant for pumpkin. Maghreb cuisine is as ensconced in France as spaghetti and pizza are in the United States, This love of North African food commenced with France’s foray into North Africa in 1830. The exodus of the “pieds noirs,” or French residents of Algeria, to France in the early 1960s, when the North African colonies became independent brought with them recipes laced with orange flower water, dried fruits, cilantro, mint, cumin, ginger and other exotic ingredients. In Paris you can find restaurants serving ethnic specialities such as couscous royal, tagines, pastilla and chorba. Maghreb pastry shops are also sprinkled throughout every neighbourhood, their windows piled high with colourful sugar-dusted, nutty sweets, typically enjoyed with mint tea.

Tagine of Lamb with Pumpkin is a traditional North African recipe for a classic tagine recipe of lamb cooked with pumpkin in a tomato, turmeric and onion sauce. A tagine is a type of dish which is named after the special pot in which it is cooked. The traditional tagine pot is formed entirely of a heavy clay which is sometimes painted or glazed. It consists of two parts; a base unit which is flat and circular with low sides, and a large cone or dome-shaped cover that rests inside the base during cooking. Recently, European manufacturers have created tagines with heavy cast iron bottoms that can be fired on a stove top at high heat. Whilst similar to a casserole dish which cooks most efficiently in the oven, the tagine cooks best on the stove top.

Tagine of Lamb with Pumpkin

900g stewing lamb, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 small onions, coarsely chopped
salt to taste
1 tsp cayenne pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp turmeric
9 large tomatoes, blanched, peeled and diced
2 hot red chillies, finely chopped
1 tbsp raisins
450g pumpkin peeled and coarsely chopped
900g green beans, halved
juice of 1 lemon

Combine the meat, garlic, onions, salt, pepper, oil, turmeric, tomatoes and chillies in a tagine. Mix well by stirring then place on the hob. When bubbling add the lid and reduce to a low simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes then add the raisins and cook for a further 15 minutes before adding the pumpkin, green beans and lemon juice then cook for a further 90 minutes until the meat is very tender. Serve on a bed of couscous or saffron rice.

I would recommend Carruades de Lafite (£56 - £145 dependant on the vintage) as a great wine to pair with the tagine. Carruades is the second wine of the First Growth Château Lafite Rothschild and takes its name from the Carruades Plateau - a group of plots adjacent to the château's best vineyards, purchased in 1845 by Château Lafite. The wines of Carruades de Lafite feature characteristics similar to those of the Grand Vin, but with their own personality linked to a higher percentage of Merlot in its composition, and plots of land that are clearly identified as producing Carruades. The wines are fine, deep and intense with notes of ripe black currants and plums, chocolate, black olives and toffee. They are supple, well balanced and aromatic.

Château Grand Puy Lacoste (£48 - £22) is another good choice. The Château was once owned by Raymond Dupin, one of Bordeaux's greatest gourmets. In 1978 Dupin sold the Château to Jean Eugene Borie, owner of Château Ducru Beaucaillou. The Château has been run since then by Jean Eugene's son Xavier. Grand Puy Lacoste has reputation for consistently making big, durable, full bodied Pauillacs which should be in a higher classification. These wines have a wonderful perfume of cinnamon, ripe redcurrants, blackberries,wood and tobacco. They are creamily smooth, age well and represent a top class Pauillac.

I would also choose Château Haut Bages Libéral (£14 - £15). Haut Bages Libéral sits high on top of the Bages plateau with Châteaux Pichon Baron, Lalande, Lynch Bages and Latour at its feet. It is named after the village of Bages and its one time owners the Libéral family in the 18th century. Haut Bages Libéral's wines are a dark crimson with spicy ,raspberry, toasted notes, leather and wild aromas. They have a good balance between tannin and fruit and are full bodied and silky. They can have an almost toffee cream taste and age well.

Finally Le Roc du Chateau Pellebouc (£8.57) would be super. Le Roc du Château Pellebouc comes from the Entre deux Mers, just a few miles away from the Saint Emilion appellation. Château Pellebouc is owned by Pascale and Baudouin Thienpont – members of the famous wine making family who own Le Pin and manage several other top flight châteaux. The wine is a Gold Medal winner and it's a superb wine. It has a deep, intense purple colour, with a scent of red fruits and spicier notes. In the mouth, it is quite powerful in terms of both roundness and balance. It will delight the palates of wine-lovers looking for a heavy, balanced, fruity wine.


1 comment:

James P. Walsh said...

Tajine is one of my favorite dishes. I make it all the time and it is always delicious. One of these days I hope to get an authentic tajine to cook in alhough the Le Creuset I have is very good.