The highly spiced pastilla, thought to be an Andalusian recipe brought to Morocco by the Moors, is now considered a classic dish and is often served on special occasions with sweet mint tea. It can also be served as a dessert, made with milk and almonds.
- 4 x 500 g whole squab pigeons (see Note) or 1.2 kg chicken marylands
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 small red onions, grated
- 1 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
- ½ cup roughly chopped coriander leaves
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 pinch of saffron threads
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 cinnamon quill
- 60 g butter
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 8 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tbsp icing sugar, plus extra, to dust
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon, plus extra, to dust
- 200 g (1¼ cups) blanched almonds, roasted, roughly chopped
- 100 g ghee (clarified butter), melted
- 150 g packet (10 x 30 cm round sheets) brik pastry (see Note)
- 30 g (¼ cup) ground almonds
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Rinse pigeons including the cavity and place, breast-side up, in a single layer in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Rub with garlic and onion, and season well with salt. Add parsley, coriander, turmeric, saffron, ginger, cinnamon quill and butter to pan, then fill pan with enough water to just cover pigeons. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low and cover surface with a cartouche, then a lid. Cook for 40 minutes, then remove pigeons from cooking liquid and set aside in a colander to drain excess liquid.
Meanwhile, increase heat to high and return cooking liquid to the boil. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until liquid has reduced to about 375 ml (1½ cups). Remove and discard cinnamon quill. Reduce heat to medium, stir in lemon juice, then, stirring briskly, add eggs. Stir for a further 3 minutes or until eggs are cooked; they will look scrambled and curd-like. Strain mixture through a fine sieve, squeezing out as much liquid as possible; this ensures the filling does not cause the pastry to be soggy.
Preheat oven to 180°C. Combine icing sugar, ground cinnamon and blanched almonds in a bowl and set aside. Once pigeons are cool enough to handle, shred meat and discard skin and bones. Combine pigeon and egg mixture and season with salt and pepper. Cool completely.
Brush a 28 cm heavy-based, ovenproof frying pan or 28 cm springform pan with ghee. Place a sheet of brik pastry over the base of the pan, then brush with ghee. Working around the edge of the pan, repeat with another 4 sheets of pastry, slightly overlapping the sheets, brushing each sheet with ghee and leaving 10 cm hanging over the edge; there should be a 10 cm overhang around the whole rim.
Spread cinnamon almond mixture over pastry shell, then top with another 2 sheets of pastry, slightly overlapping the sheets, brushing each sheet with ghee and leaving a 10 cm overhang. Spread over pigeon mixture, then top with another sheet of pastry (with overhang) and brush with ghee. Scatter over ground almonds, then layer with remaining 2 sheets of pastry (with overhang), brushing each sheet with ghee. Fold in the overhanging pastry towards the centre of the pan, then cover with a small, ovenproof plate to lightly compress the pastilla.
Bake for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the plate and bake for a further 10 minutes. Carefully invert pastilla onto an oven tray and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes or until the top is golden and crisp. Transfer the pastilla to a plate and cool slightly, before dusting it with icing sugar and cinnamon.
• Squab pigeons are available from specialist poultry and game suppliers.
• Brik pastry, which is similar to filo pastry, is sold as ready-made sheets at specialist food shops. It is used for both sweet and savoury dishes.
Photography by Anson Smart.
As seen in Feast magazine, October 2011, Issue 2. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.