Sunday, May 4, 2008

Spicy Moroccan Butter

Dry leaves are swept up, swirled momentarily then tumbled among the debris around the yard. Magpies struggle, warbling in protest, to hold on to the overhead wires they pendulously grip. There’s an unmistakable icy bite in the air. Our lilli pilli tree, as sweetly a named native as one could hope, is dropping juicy bombs of pink that explode on the deck. The small, pretty fruit can be made into jams and jellies, an old fashioned kind of Australian cooking, but as most recipes seem to require shocking amounts of sugar to impart any actual flavour, I’m content to sweep the daily windfall away. The lemon tree, far more useful, is bearing loads of ripe yellow globes that are being squeezed into, and over, everything.

Poaching quinces with rosewater and dried cherries to sit atop morning porridge; layering vegetables in a dish, bathing them in stock and a dribble of oil; carving smiling wedges from a hefty pumpkin. Cool weather pleasures abound in the months ahead. There will be bracing dog walks on the beach, dodging the eerily blue jellyfish deposited along the shore by wilder, seasonal waves, and gnarled driftwood to collect along the way. Ours is an ever expanding pile. Winds that blow away the cobwebs; scarves and socks and not shaving your legs. Reading and writing in a sunlit room on a bright, cold day. The joy of running without muttering breathlessly about the ‘bloody heat’.

Some rain came this week and washed away the fragment of self doubt that’s been hanging around. I walked the dog during one of the exceptionally gorgeous breaks between downpours. It was only then that the flame reds and burnished golds of autumn were, finally, revealed. What can I say? It was beautiful. Back in the kitchen I realized that pumpkin wasn’t going to carve itself. Then Cindy reminded me that the combination of fennel and pumpkin is utterly inspired. I got out the Big Knife and merrily carved away.

So, what’s for dinner? I’m very glad you asked.

Pumpkin, fennel and olive pies – feeds 4-6 (makes 8)

Do I really need to tell you that what makes this so very good is the Spicy Moroccan Butter? It’s based, in part, on a Paula Wolfert recipe via Deborah Madison’s Savory Way. It has loads of uses, but roasted with a tray of vegetables it is exquisite. The rest? Well, that's all my own work. And yes, I do know that filo really is better when brushed with melted butter than oil. Do as your conscience and waistline see fit...

Spicy Moroccan butter/oil:

½ teaspoon of sea salt
4 spring onions, white part only, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 heaped teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
½ teaspoon of hot chilli powder
Small handful of parsley, chopped
Small handful of coriander (cilantro), chopped
125g (½ cup) of unsalted butter or 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Using a mortar and pestle, crush the sea salt, spring onions, garlic and spices to make a paste. Add the herbs, and pound until quite smooth. Chop the butter roughly and pound it into the paste until well combined. Form the butter into a log, wrap tightly, and place in the fridge to rest while you get on with the recipe. If you’re using the oil, blend in all together well and set aside. The butter, well sealed and frozen, will keep for months; the oil in a lidded jar in the fridge for 1 week.

The pies:
1 kilo (2 generous lbs) of pumpkin (winter squash)
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed, soft fronds reserved
Olive/macadamia oil
Spicy Moroccan butter (see above)
2 handfuls of kalamata olives
1/3 cup of pine nuts, toasted
1 packet of filo pastry (thawed if frozen)

Preheat the oven to 180 C (375 F).

Peel the pumpkin and discard the seeds. Chop into chunks and place in a baking tray. Quarter, core and thickly slice the fennel bulbs. Add to the pumpkin, drizzle over a little oil and dot with 2 rather generous tablespoons of the butter. Bake for 45-50 minutes, tossing once the butter has melted and twice more during the process.

Chop the reserved fennel fronds. Pit the olives and roughly chop. When the vegetables are ready, remove from the oven and toss with the fennel fronds, olives and toasted pine nuts. Roughly divide the filling into 8.

Unfurl the pastry on a bench and place a clean tea towel on top. Brush the first sheet with a little oil and top with another sheet. Continue oiling and layering until 6 sheets thick. Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry in 2 widthways. Spoon the filling in the centre of each filo sheet, top with a little more butter if you dare, and gently bring the sides up. Pinch to make a ruffled ‘purse’. Brush with a little more oil, place on a lightly oiled baking tray and continue with the remaining pastry and filling to make 8.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden and shatteringly crisp. Serve with a salad of bitter leaves dressed with grain mustard and red wine vinegar.


Sophie said...

I love autumn/winter, I'm already pining for it over here. The warmer days are great but it stays light so late now - I miss the cosiness of closing the curtains and shutting the world out for the evening.

This recipe sounds absolutely gorgeous (I've never tried pumpkin and fennel together!). With all of those delicious spices it doesn't sound like you would be missing out by going for the oil instead of the butter

kitchen hand said...

Sounds magnificent. I love fennel, a great under-rated vegetable here.

Anonymous said...

Would you believe it, I was thinking about butters today - reading a phenomenal recipe for garlic butter that includes pernod, and then thinking about butter with some lemon juice and parsley, or maybe some cumin and lemon. Garlic and basil. But these are real toy butters when compared with your Moroccan mix.

The pies look so delicious too.

cmoore said...

oh wow...that sounds so good it actually made me crave winter cuisine again. but just for a very short moment, because I think I overdosed on roasted vegetables over the past six months. I'm always intimidated to tackle a pumpkin though...I suppose I'll muster my courage for the next cold spell.

Ricki said...

Cleary, your autumn is much more lush and gorgeous than mine over here--you make it sound totally appealing! I could definitely use some of that selfsame rain. . . !

These pies sound lovely. I've never been a huge fan of fennel, but this might flick the switch for me.

And I'm sure Poppy enjoys the beach walks!

ServesYouRight said...

So well written - magic in the air.


LisaRene said...

Very original combination for the filo pies. They sound delicious and quite elegant!

Callipygia said...

morrocan butter and filo aside, and that is hard to do- I am sated by the colors of your world, along with one lilli-pilli tree. Wow.

Lisa said...

As much as I am looking forward to summer, your post almost makes me wish for autumn. I say almost, because Canadian winters can be brutal.

If only rain were enough to wash away my fragments of self doubt.

The menu is divine. No doubt about that, but I am left wondering why I don't have any spicy Moroccan Butter on hand. As always, an inspired blend of flavours, along with some thoughtful reflections.

Anh said...

So beautiful and flavoursome, Lucy! I haven't had my breaky yet but guess what, I am already dreaming of dinner :)

Will have to clear sometime to make the butter and the pie. Thumbs up!

Carson said...

Just the sound of "Pumpkin, Fennel and Olive Pie" and I start salivating, and I've just had brekky! :)
That's going on the list..
I had a smile at "juicy bombs" a nice phrase and I also poached quinces on the weekend, gotta love quince season.

Johanna said...

Not being a fennel fan, I think I need to make this to inspire me - if this doesn't make fennel sound like heaven on a stick, nothing will.

Lovely autumnal reflections - i was admiring the reds and golds of the elm trees on the weekend! And I love how you write about the pastry - makes me want to be eating some now!

neil said...

I feel like you in regards to lilli pilli fruit, we used to have a huge tree in out childhood home and it just made the biggest mess. Right now I'm just about to grate up some quinces to make quince liqueuer. Nice treatment of the pumpkin.

jj said...

Those little pies turned out so good ... looks like they could be a little tricky to make but yours look fantastic!

Susan said...

Ah, so you have discovered smen! I have been itching to make this since my first batch of niter kibbeh. I'm delirious. What a post, Lucy!

Wendy said...

I'm going crazy over the long days (10.30pm and still not dark) and warmer temperatures up here. It was 20oC yesterday. Bliss. Aren't seasons wonderful?
Have bookmarked this for October. It sounds divine.

Antonia said...

It is so strange to read your post about autumn when we are just enjoying the first few tentative days of sunshine and warmth - today I had to water the garden for the first time this year!
But your spicy moroccan butter sounds wonderful - I'm sure I could use it on a seasonal dish here. Beautiful pictures and your recipe sounds wonderful!

Liz said...

Your writing is so lovely here - like poetry to me. And you're almost making me yearn for autumn. Note that I do say almost, because I need a chance to miss spring and summer first.

But the pictures, as always, are gorgeous and simple and perfect. I love an autumn leaf left alone. :)

Christina said...

Oh, that butter sounds like warm, fatty goodness. Unfortunately, I've really been struggling with phyllo lately. I made your lovely chard pie and it was so good (spectacular! glorious!)the first day, but the phyllo turned into mucky paste when it came time for leftovers. What is your trick for keeping leftover phyllo fresh and appealing?

Your photography, as always, is stunning. What is your mortar and pestle made from?

Rosa said...

Gorgeous pies! I'm almost wishing there was pumpkin at the market, but I can be patient for a few months... and borrow your Morroccan spiced butter in the meantime!

winedeb said...

It is so hard to think that you are having fall/winter upon you now. Lucy, this is a beautiful post! I have read it 3 times and probably will again. Thank you!
Now when is your first book going to be published?
Now for that savory pumpkin with fennel...super combination! What a treat in those little pies!

Lucy said...

Sophie, the oil is really just as good. But butter just edged it out in a small poll I did in this house!

Kitchen hand, I can't get enough of the stuff. Favourite veg, raw and cooked.

Vegeyum - garlic and pernod butter! It sounds incredible. Now that with fennel could be really wonderful...

Cmoore - don't fear the pumpkin. Confidence and Big, Sharp Knife are all you need.

Ricki, I always find that rain washes away things that I want to be long gone. It rains so rarely now that the gaps between stretch ahead way too long's a switch-flicker, alright. Fennel is my all time fave.

Thank you Smita, for reading.

Hello Lisarene - they are quite elegant. That is until you crunch through the layers of pastry and end up with it everywhere!

Calli, aren't the lilli pilli berries beautiful? My grandmother used to eat them during the Depression as a girl. To me they taste wet and vaguely pink. Glad we live in richer times...

Lisa, I can hardly begin to imagine the ferocity of the cold in your part of the world. I'm sure my love of cold weather climes would be sorely tested. I'm wishing a large and glorious downpour your way - you're a bloody star, love. NEVER forget it!

Anh, I hope you enjoy some respite, and soon, from all that study. The butter keeps well - worth the small effort involved!

Carson, I hope your quinces smelt as good as mine. I'm often reluctant to cook them as they make the kitchen smell so damn good when I pass the bowl.

Johanna, fennel does seem to take some effort to get to know. Cooked, it sweetens and caramelises...God, just thinking about it makes me want to bung some in the oven! Good luck...

Neil - quince liquer!! Sounds bloody marvellous. Yep, that Lilli Pilli - pretty, but man does it stain everything.

Not tricky at all, JJ. I'm a simpleton when it comes to 'fancy' - easiest shape to make in the world!

Susan, if only I had come across some luck, I'm afraid. Just ordinary butter for me. I saw a Moroccan cook rubbing warm blue cheese through her couscous the other day, replicating some of smen's unique stink. Worth a try? I think so!

Wendy, I'm with you (though freaked out about it still being light at 10.30 pm). 'Doing the season', as Tamasin Day-Lewis says is a real joy!

Hi Antonia - yes, you'd have no trouble using it with alomst anything. Melted on top of salmon would be grand, under the skin of a roasting chook...lots of possiblities! It freezes very well, too.

Oh, Liz, I love an autumn leaf left alone, too! The seasonally opposed hemispheres can make us jealous of one another - I'm sure I'll be salivating over summer tomato recipes while peeling turnips!

Oh, Christina, that's terrible! I have no trick...with hungry boys around here, it usually goes before I have a chance to wonder where to put it. For the record, though, I don't refrigerate unless it's incredibly hot. The pastry on these stayed crisp on top, but soggy bottoms seem to be the norm, I'm afraid...anyone got any tips?

As for the mortar and pestle, I think they're made of concrete. It was a gift and I oiled it really well with olive oil before using it. So far, none of us has gotten sick...;-)

Rosa, borrow away - enjoy. Let me know if you do and how you use it.

Deb, the topsy turviness does my head in too. Made all the more odd by the fact that my garden is growing really well now that things have cooled down! Book? Well, I'm working on it. Slowly. Thank you for your support - that goes for everyone who takes the time to read, but especially to you Deb. I'll keep you updated!

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

YUM, Lucy!!! This looks so and sounds so fabulous! You're combining some of my favorite foods and flavors here!

kale for sale said...

The recipe looks and sounds delicious, anything with peppers rates in my book, but really I was inspired to get a dog to go walking with in the spaces between the storms.

Suganya said...

I am inviting myself to your place, Lucy. The flavor combination is wonderful.