Cookbook 137: Unforgettable

I have a confession. I had never heard of Paula Wolfert before I backed the kickstarter for Unforgettable: The bold flavours of Paula Wolfert’s renegade life by Emily Kaiser Thelin. My lack of knowledge is clearly my loss because Paula Wolfert lived an amazing life, loved food, and wrote about it extensively. So I’m really glad I backed this kickstarter so I could learn more about Paula and her amazing cooking. I’m giving this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Chicken M’Chermel

Chicken tagine

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ground toasted cumin
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • flaky sea salt
  • 6 – 8 skin-on, bone-in whole chicken legs, cut into thighs and drumsticks (or 12 – 16 thighs and drumsticks)
  • 1 – 2 chicken livers (if you can find them)
  • 3 large red onions
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons saffron water (1 strand of saffron soaked in 2 tbsp of water, saffron discarded – or some turmeric in water)
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 cup pitted green olives
  • 2 preserved lemons, quartered and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (approx 2 lemons)
  • 6 – 8 flatbreads, such as pita or naan, warmed

Method

  1. The night before, in a large bowl, stir together the olive oil, garlic, ginger, paprika, cumin, black pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels. Slide your fingers under the skin of the chicken to loosen it from the flesh, taking care not to tear it or remove it entirely. Add the chicken pieces and livers to the marinade in the bowl and rub the marinade all over, working it under the skin of the chicken. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. If you are using a fire-proof casserole dish, preheat the oven to 160C. If you are using a tagine, do not preheat the oven.
  3. Finely chop the onions. Set a large sieve in the sink and line a large bowl with a kitchen towel. Transfer the onions to the sieve and rinse under cool running water. Transfer the rinsed onions to the prepared bowl and squeeze dry with the towel.
  4. In a 30cm wide and 6.25cm deep tagine (or a 6 – 8 L flame proof casserole dish), combine the water, coriander, parsley, saffron water, turmeric, and about one fifth of the onion. Add the chicken, livers, and the remaining marinade and stir to coat.
  5. If using a tagine, cover and set it on a heat diffuser over medium-low heat. If using a casserole, place a piece of crumpled parchment paper on top of the chicken, cover with a lid and transfer to the oven. Cook the chicken for 50 minutes. As the chicken pieces cook, gently turn them and the livers often in the sauce, being careful not to tear the chicken skin or let the sauce rise above a simmer.
  6. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer the livers to a small bowl or mini-food processor. Mash or process them to a coarse paste, then return to the tagine or casserole with the remaining onions. Return the covered tagine to a simmer on the stove top or the covered casserole to the oven and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is very tender and the flesh falls easily from the bone, or an instant-read thermometer inserted near (but not touching) the bone reads between 85C and 90C, 1.5 – 2 hours longer on the stove top or 1 hour longer in the oven.
  7. Transfer the chicken pieces to a sheet pan and cover to keep warm. The sauce should measure about 1.5 cups and be thick enough that a wooden spoon pulled across the bottom of the cooking vessel leaves a trail. If the sauce is too thin, simmer over medium heat until reduced to about 1.5 cups. Stir in the chicken, olives, preserved lemons, and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and lemon juice if needed.

Notes on this recipe:

  • We couldn’t find chicken livers for sale, so skipped their inclusion. It certainly didn’t seem to make a difference and we found the whole dish very tasty.
  • Would cook again – though the overnight preparation means that it is not going to be as common as I’d like

Mushroom caps stuffed with olives and porcini

Stuffed mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 20g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 cup hot water
  • flakey sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 16 – 20 firm, fresh white mushrooms, caps about 3.5 – 4cm wide
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 10 – 15 pitted, cracked green olives, rinsed and finely chopped

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 160C. Grease a 23cm by 33cm baking dish with the oil.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the dried mushrooms and hot water. Add a pinch of salt and let stand for 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, wipe the white mushrooms clean. Trim off the stem ends, separate the stems from the caps, and finely chop the stems. Set aside 1 cup of the stems.
  4. Place the mushroom caps, gill side up, in the prepared baking dish. In a small bowl, mash 2 tablespoons of butter, a pinch of salt and pepper. Divide the butter mixture evenly among the caps. Bake the caps for 10 minutes, until heated through. Remove from the oven and raise the oven temperature to 200C.
  5. While the caps are baking, rub the dried mushrooms between your fingers in the soaking water to remove any grit, then lift them out and squeeze them dry over the bowl. Finely chop the dried mushrooms. Slowly pour the mushroom liquid into a frying pan, stopping when you reach the grit at the bottom of the bowl. Add the chopped dried mushrooms and fresh mushroom stems to the frying pan and bring slowly to a simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushroom stems are tender, about 15 minutes.
  6. Transfer the mushroom mixture to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, the parsley, oregano, lemon juice, and olive, and work together with a fork until evenly mixed. Season with salt and pepper, then stuff each mushroom cap with about 1 tablespoon of the mixture.
  7. Bake the caps until tender when pierced with a toothpick and sizzling, 10 – 15 minutes. Serve hot or lukewarm.

Notes on this recipe:

  • I don’t eat mushrooms generally, so didn’t eat these. They were well received by my vegetarian guests and people who like mushrooms.

Eggplants with creamy walnut spread and pomegranate seeds

Eggplants stuffed with walnut purée and herbs

Ingredients

  • 12 baby eggplants or 6 slender Asian eggplants with stems, halved lengthways
  • 1 3/4 tsp flaky sea salt
  • 2 cups walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ground marigold petals or ground turmeric
  • 1/3 cup ice water
  • 1/3 cup chopped, fresh coriander
  • 1/4 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion
  • 2 tbsp mild vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh or thawed pomegranate seeds, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)
  • Svaneti salt, for garnish (optional)

Method

  1. Line a sheet pan with paper towels. Sprinkle the cut sides of the eggplants with 1 teaspoon of the salt and arrange them, cut side down, on the prepared sheet pan. Weight the eggplants down with plates and let stand for 20 minutes. Rinse the eggplants under cool running water, then squeeze gently with paper towels to draw out excess moisture.
  2. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the walnuts, garlic, paprika, marigold petals/turmeric, and the remaining 3/4 tsp salt and process until an oily paste forms, about 2 minutes. Add the ice water and process until the paste is light and smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl, add the celery, coriander, basil, onion and vinegar, and stir to mix. Fold in the pomegranate seeds. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and vinegar if needed. Cover and set aside.
  3. Line a sheet pan with paper towels. In a large non-stick frying pan with a tight fitting lid, heat the olive-oil over medium-low heat. Working in batches if necessary, add the eggplant halves, cut side down, cover and cook until the cut sides are golden brown and the eggplant flesh is very tender when cut with a knife (15 – 20 minutes). Transfer the eggplant halves to the prepared sheet pan and let drain and cool to warm or room temperature. As needed, add more oil to the pan before frying the next batch.
  4. Using your fingers or a fork, split open the cut side of each eggplant half along the centre, creating a cavity. Mound an equal amount of the walnut filling in each cavity. Garnish the eggplants with more pomegranate seeds and serve with the parsley and svaneti salt if using. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes on this recipe:

  • I love eggplants and walnuts and pomegranates, so of course I was going to cook this recipe. Tasty food, highly recommended.

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