Fascinating food of the Moors

By TPN/PA, in Food and Drink · 07-06-2019 02:00:00 · 0 Comments

Chef and restaurateur Ben Tish might have grown up in fish and chip shop-strewn Skegness, but his ultimate passion is the food of the Med.

He's travelled to the region every year for more than a decade, spending lots of time particularly in Sicily, Andalucia and on the Amalfi Coast - and his latest cookbook Moorish, as the title doubly suggests, focuses on the region and its culinary legacy of the Moors, which people still can't get enough of.

The Moors were Muslims of North African descent, who invaded Spain and occupied the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages. "They had a pretty good run of it, it was fairly short-lived [around 200 years]," says Tish of their attempts to conquer the world, "but it's still being felt now."

He is entranced by the advancements and innovations the Moors brought with them, from their scientific developments (like distillation processes, even though they didn't drink alcohol for religious reasons), to their planting habits (as they invaded, they planted citrus trees as they went, both for the fruit, and the scent - hence Seville's famous orange trees).

Their presence, says Tish, 44, can be found in architecture ("In some parts of Sicily and Andalucia you could be in Morocco") and through certain dishes; from nutrient-rich cold soups, granita, aubergines and spices, to the area's penchant for sweet and mouth-puckering sourness. Even Ibizan biscuits and cakes ("There's not just partying in Ibiza") owe culinary debts to the Moors.

Cooking techniques, like deep-frying and grilling over wood and charcoal, were also introduced largely by the Moors. "As a chef, I find that fascinating; as a food person, I find that fascinating," says Tish. "You'll get very typical non-Muslim ingredient like pork for example, but rubbing shoulders with cumin and cardamom, and that's just a natural way of cooking - it's not a fusion, it's just how the food's morphed over the centuries."

Their legacy is as lively as ever, and intact, down largely to the fact that "the places I'm talking about, Andalucia, Seville, Malaga, they haven't changed and they're not going to", says the restaurateur with affection. "There are probably a few more cars - but that's it."

He feels that, although the dishes he makes are his "take" on a cuisine, he has fully adopted the food and sensibility around produce and seasonality of people in southern Italy and Spain.

Sicilian Olive bread

"The dough will naturally take on the flavour of the olive oil used to deep-fry, so be sure to go with a favourite variety."

Ingredients:

(Serves 6)

For the dough:

240ml lukewarm water

50ml red wine

1tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1tbsp runny honey

1x7g sachet dried yeast granules

425g strong white flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting

Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

1/2tsp fine salt

Olive oil for frying

For the filling:

1 bulb of fennel, cored and finely sliced

75g sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and roughly chopped

1 red onion, finely sliced

1 fresh red chilli, finely sliced

18 salted anchovies

100g pecorino or caciocavallo, grated

1tbsp picked thyme leaves

Sea salt and black pepper

Method:

1. First make the bread dough. Put the water, wine, oil and honey in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast and stir well. Leave to activate and become foamy. Now add a third of the flour, the lemon zest and salt and whisk in to make a smooth batter. Mix in the remaining flour to make a manageable dough.

2. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead for a few minutes or until you have a firm, smooth dough. Shape into a ball, place in a bowl and cover with a cloth. Leave to rise in a warm spot for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

3. Cut the dough into six equal portions. Roll out each piece into a rough circle. Leave to rest for 15 minutes before cooking.

4. Heat enough olive oil for shallow frying in a deep pan to 170°C. In batches, carefully lower the breads into the hot oil using a metal spatula or spider and fry for five to six minutes or until golden brown on both sides. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Keep warm.

5. To make the filling, heat a saute pan over a medium heat and add a glug of olive oil. Add the fennel and season, then cook for three minutes or until softened and browned. Add the tomatoes, onion and chilli, stir and cook for a further three minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

6. Preheat the grill. Divide the fennel and tomato mix among the flatbreads, spreading it over the top, followed by the anchovies and then the cheese. Place under the grill and cook for three minutes or until the cheese is melted and golden brown. Sprinkle with thyme and serve.

Andalucian pork ribs

"This is one of my favourite summer dishes for when I'm cooking over fire. The ribs are equally as good straight from a hot griddle. Serve with some chips cooked in olive oil."

Ingredients:

(Serves 4)

1.2kg pork ribs (ideally cut from the belly of a well-reared heritage pig)

150g sea salt

1/2 bulb of garlic, separated into cloves

A few sprigs of thyme

4 bay leaves

3 star anise

2 cloves

170g membrillo (quince paste)

25g coriander seeds

10g hot smoked paprika

50g flaked almonds, lightly toasted

A small handful of coriander, leaves picked

Method:

1. Rinse the ribs under cold running water, then cut into three to four rib pieces. Place on a tray and sprinkle with the sea. Ensure the ribs are completely covered. Leave in the fridge for one hour.

2. Remove the ribs from the tray and rinse under cold running water to remove the salt.

3. Preheat the oven to 120°C/100°C fan/Gas Mark 1/2. Lay the ribs in a deep ovenproof tray or tin and pour over cold water to cover. Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaves, star anise and cloves. Cover with foil. Place the tray in the oven and cook for two to two-and-a-half hours, or until the rib meat is very tender but not falling from the bone. The low temperature should be monitored to ensure the ribs do not cook too quickly - check two or three times during cooking and skim off any scum that has risen to the surface.

4. Meanwhile, put the quince paste, coriander seeds, smoked paprika and 100ml of water in a saucepan and melt slowly over a low heat to make a thick glaze. Set aside.

5. When the ribs are cooked, remove them from the oven and leave to cool down in the cooking liquor. Once cool, drain the ribs well (reserve the cooking liquor for another use, such as in a sauce or soup) and place them on a tray. Pour over most of the quince glaze (reserve some for basting later) and toss through the ribs to coat them.

6. When you are ready to serve, you can either finish the ribs on the barbecue, over hot coals, or on a hot ridged grill pan. Barbecue or grill the ribs for three to four minutes on each side or until they are evenly caramelised and hot. Baste with the remaining quince glaze as you go. Season with sea salt, sprinkle over the toasted flaked almonds and coriander, and serve.

Blood orange and saffron jelly

"The colours of the blood orange rainbow are an intoxicating swirl of yellow, orange, pink, purple and red, offering the willing participant a gastronomic, psychedelic freak-out."

Ingredients:

(Serves 6-8)

For the jelly:

700ml blood orange juice (from 9-10 oranges)

175g caster sugar

1/2tsp saffron threads

7 small sheets/leaves of gelatine (14g in total)

For the granita:

220g caster sugar

500ml blood orange juice (from 7-8 oranges)

Method:

1. For the jelly, pour the orange juice into a saucepan and add the sugar and saffron threads. Place over a medium heat, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine in cold water to soften it. Drain the gelatine and squeeze out excess water, then whisk into the hot juice until completely melted.

2. Strain the mix through a sieve and pour into individual glasses or a large serving bowl. Cover and place in the fridge. Leave to set for about four hours.

3. For the granita, put the sugar and 300ml of water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then boil over a high heat to create a sugar syrup. Whisk in the blood orange juice. Pour the mix into a bowl and set aside to cool down.

4. Once cold, pour the syrup into a freezerproof container and freeze, every hour scraping through with a fork until the syrup is completely frozen and resembles snow.

5. Serve the jelly alongside the granita for an incredibly fresh and light finish to a dinner.

Moorish: Vibrant Recipes From The Mediterranean by Ben Tish is available now.


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