This is a dish that is filled with memories of magical moments in Marrakech; a memento from Moorish Andalucía. It is filled with the aromatics and the spices of the souks. But it is done with a Persian twist, the biggest of which, is to use chicken rather than the traditional pigeon. Let me give you Chicken Bastilla, a variant of Pigeon Pastilla.
First you will need, and these portions are generous even for a large extended family, so cut them back to suit:
1kg onions, diced; olive oil; 3″ piece root ginger, finely grated; heaped tsp cinnamon, plus extra for garnish; half tsp mace; half tsp nutmeg; 1 tbsp caster sugar; large handful dates, pitted and finely chopped; I med pre-roasted chicken, about 2kg, meat finely shredded; 75g pine nuts, toasted; 6 hard boiled egs, roughly chopped; 1 egg separated, the white lightly beaten; flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stems finely chopped; coriander, leaves and stems finely chopped; 2 tbsp clear honey; sea salt and freshly ground black pepper; 6 sheets filo pastry; icing sugar to dust; and there’s more…
Pre-heat the oven to 180/gas 4. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper – you might need two if you use the full volume above.
Fry the onions in a generous amount of olive oil over a medium heat, stirring regularly to caramelize without burning. Once brown and sticky add the ginger, dry spices, caster sugar and dates. Stir the mixture well. Cook until liquid absorbed; remove from heat and set aside.
Put the shredded chicken into a large bowl with the pine nuts, chopped egg, parsley and coriander and mix together. Add the fried onion mixture and honey and give everything another good mix. Season generously with salt and fresh-ground black pepper.
Cut each filo pastry sheet in half to make two squares. Take both squares and overlap them to make a star shape. Divide the mixture into six portions, then pile one portion into the centre of the pastry star. Pat it down to form a flat round disc, (not too wide, so that you can still seal the pastry edges around the stuffing), then brush the exposed edges of pastry with the beaten egg white. Bring the points of the pastry in towards the centre one by one and brush each overlap of pastry with a little beaten egg white as you go to secure, until the final flap closes the pastry parcel.
Brush with a little more egg white to seal the parcel. Turn the bastille over and place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pastry squares and stuffing to create six bastilla. Brush the tops and sides with egg yolk, bake for 20-22 mins, or until golden brown.
Remove the bastilla from the oven and, while still hot, dust with icing sugar and a sprinkling of cinnamon. For special ones a scattering of rose petals is more than deserved.
And the verdict? Well if my clumsy fingers can cope with filo sheets, for the first time, anyone can pull this together. We had two clean plates, after seconds; one I’m full, after dissecting the contents to look for foreign bodies whilst scoffing the chicken and the egg; and one very predictable I don’t like that whine, which is just as well I’d kept back some unadulterated chicken. Dreams of Elsewhere. Enjoy.