Meatless Friday: Cinq? Nope! Non! ..The Feast of Saint Joseph
When the Feast of Saint Joseph, March 19, falls on a Friday during Lent, meat may be eaten. Woo Hoo!
Actually, and more respectfully, The Feast of Saint Joseph is an important Feast day, a day of Solemnity. Meat may be eaten.
That fact came in very handy because we were hosting some family members for a dinner party on an otherwise meatless Friday. They were in town for the boys High School State Tournament and it was a great time for us to get together. I had a tajine that Michael gave me for Valentine's Day and was inspired by it to make a Moroccan meal.
Given the gift of a Feast Day, I made it a meat fest!
I adore the sensuallity of North African cuisine, especially the food of Morocco. The spices, aromas, and flavors are so profound and deep. The hues, tints, and colors are so earthy and embracing.
I wanted to begin the meal with something soft and languid. I made a velvety smooth roasted carrot & butternut squash soup topped with toasted almonds, snipped chives, a swirl of cinnamon speckled sour cream, and a drizzle of white truffle oil. Slow roasting the vegetables brought out an intense sweetness and depth.
Tajine. I wanted quail tajine. I had eight baby partially de-boned quail. Although tiny, they would not fit into my clay tajine vessel. A dutch oven worked perfectly. I stuffed the delicate little quail with prosciutto-wrapped figs, closed them with skewers, tied the legs together with bacon, and set them aside. In the dutch oven on medium heat, I sauted pearl onions, fresh ginger,and garlic in olive oil until translucent before adding the autumn-hued spices: sweet paprika, smoked paprka, cumin, saffron, tumeric, cinnamon, salt, and pepper.
I tossed in whole trimmed pencil-thin carrots, sliced sweet potatoes, dried apricots, sultanas, chickpeas, chicken stock, and hand crushed whole tomatoes; and let this aromatic pot of heaven simmer for about thirty minutes to blend and reduce by half before nestling the stuffed quail into the braising liquid, tucked between the vegetables and dried fruits. Covered, it oven braised for 2 1/2 hours until meltingly tender.
Instead of the fluffier-than-air warm couscous that traditionally accompanies a tajine, I opted for an Israeli Pearl couscous salad studded with grilled zucchini, green & red peppers, black olives, dried apricots, split grape tomatoes, and parsley. It was lightly dressed in a fresh orange saffron vinaigrette and served in the actual tajine vessel.
To bring additional meat with some heat to the table, skewered merguez sausages,( ground lamb spiced and flecked with sumac, chile, and paprika) were served on a thin swath of sweet tomato jam with a sprinkling of fresh mint alongside caraway-dill pickled red onions and zucchini batons.
For blazing heat, I pureed roasted red peppers, dried chili flakes, lemon juice, caraway seeds , cumin, and oilve oil into a classic Harrissa sauce to be passed around the table. A tiny drop was all that was needed. It was hot!
The flavors of the tajine were extraordinary. Sweet, earthy, and sensual. The quail were tender and moist, but persnickety little things to eat. Throwing down our forks, we let our fingers do the walking, talking, and licking. The chickpeas provided crunch while the vegetables and aromatics bathed the quail with luscious softness. The bright coolness of the couscous salad was a perfect palate cleanser and foil to the lip-covering quail sauce, with each couscous pearl exploding like giant lemon kissed caviar. The merguez sausages, when swiped through the tomato jam, were packed with sweet heat and great mouthfeel.
Dessert was supposed to be apricot baklava inspired tarts. Until the platter crashed onto the floor smashing sticky buttered phyllo flakes into 100 million pieces.
After a quick clean up with none the wiser, I crammed a few handfuls of smashed phyllo baklava mush into my mouth. There is a 5 second rule, after all. Cook's treat.