Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Neglected Cookbook Project: Pastilla

I have a lot of cookbooks.  I'm sure there are plenty of people who have more, but I still feel I have quite a few.  I'm afraid, actually, to count them.  I'm better off not knowing!

But I since I have a lot of them, I also have a few that I've never actually made anything from.  One night a little over a week ago, when I came to one of those lulls you find in some recipes where you have to keep an eye on the food but not really do anything, I grabbed a random cookbook to entertain myself and found one of these long-neglected cookbooks in my hand.

Specifically, one on Moroccan cooking that I'd picked up for cheap on one of my visits to England.  It's just called "Moroccan", and I can't find it listed on Amazon or elsewhere, strangely enough.

As I flipped through it, I found myself absolutely enthralled by it.  So many dishes I was completely unfamiliar with! So many interesting combinations of spices and flavors!  So many things I suddenly felt a burning need to try!

In addition to the weekly challenges, I intend to work through all my never-used cookbooks by the end of the year.  For the next NCP post, I'll have a full accounting of just how many cookbooks this actually is....

As for my first attempt, after some deliberation, and an innocent question on r/cooking that turned into a pigeon-vs-chicken controversy, I came up with this, a chicken version of the Moroccan classic, pastilla.

I know it doesn't look like much.  The filo is a little overdone, and the filling looks like eggy mush.  But it was amazing.

It's a long and somewhat intimidating recipe, I'll grant you that.  Originally the pigeons were supposed to be slowly stewed, and I cooked my chicken thighs in a pressure cooker instead, which sped up the process considerably; I also cooked the chicken several days in advance, and just pulled it, and the reserved stock, out of the fridge on assembly day.

And for the love of all that's golden brown and delicious, don't toss out the extra stock!  I've already made one soup with some of it, and after a bit more tweaking of the recipe, I plan on sharing that too!


  •  four chicken thighs, with bone and skin (or three whole pigeons)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • large pinch ground turmeric
  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 6 eggs
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 16 sheets filo pastry 
  • cinnamon and confectioner's sugar, for dusting
1) Place the chicken thighs in a pot with all of the broth ingredients.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Add water just to cover and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer gently for one hour, until the chicken is very tender.  (Alternately, if you have one, use your pressure cooker: follow the timing directions for chicken pieces, which was 12 minutes for my model.)

2) Remove the chicken pieces and discard the skin.  Debone and chop or shred the meat into bite-size pieces.  Strain the stock and discard the solids.  Reserve 2/3 cup stock; save the rest for other uses!

3) Meanwhile, spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast in a 350 F oven for 8-10 minutes, until browned but not burnt.  Leave to cool for a while, then chop roughly, either by hand, or pulsed a bit in a food processor.  Mix  the chopped almonds with the cinnamon and granulated sugar in a small bowl.  Set aside.

4) In a bowl, beat together the eggs.  Add the reserved stock and blend well, then pour into a saucepan.  Over low heat, cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until the sauce turns creamy and thickens.  If the bottom starts to scramble while the top is still very liquid, lower the heat and keep stirring.  This step will take a little while...when it's nearly set, but not quite, remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

5) Brush the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with a little of the melted butter and lay the first sheet of pastry in the pan.  Brush this with butter and lay on a second sheet; repeat until six sheets are used.  Spread the almond mixture evenly over the bottom, then carefully pour over half of the egg mixture.

6) Layer four more sheets of pastry over the almond-egg filling.  Spread the chopped chicken meat evenly over the pastry, then pour over the rest of the egg mixture.  Top with the remaining six sheets of pastry, trimming away any overhang at the end.  Brush the top with any remaining butter.

7) Bake at 350 F for 40 minutes, then raise the temperature to 400 F and bake a further 10-15 minutes, until the pastry is golden and crisp.  (I went for 15, but I obviously should have pulled mine early--don't let yours get as brown as mine!)  Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and cinnamon in a lattice pattern.  Carefully (it will be hot!) undo the latch on the side of the pan to remove it, and use your longest knife to cut the pie into 6 or 8 servings.  Serve hot.

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