Monday, October 5, 2015


Well, this is just such a bonus, I had to break radio silence to tell you about it. Because My Beloved and I will be spending weeks and weeks in our little station wagon, we thought it made sense after more than 100,000 miles to have it detailed so our home away from home would at least start out looking new and shiny, inside and out.

Detailing, it turns out, takes several hours, even with an eager crew of five or six swarming over it. So, we went to the local mall to kill some time, buying odds and ends for the trip and browsing through the local cooking store. So high on a shelf that I almost didn't see it was a small (inexpensive) glazed pottery tagine next to some really large (and expensive) ones.

I had been dreaming of tagine cooking ever since our pal Sari, My Beloved, and I had a similar dish in Paris years ago. On a cold, misty March afternoon, we stumbled into a North African restaurant around the corner from the Musée Cluny (now called the Musée du Moyen Age) and had a memorable meal, complete with steaming mint tea poured from on high into glass cups. Most tagines are too big for just the two of us and I didn't anticipate making meals for a crowd, so I always hesitated to buy one. Now I'm glad I waited, as this little one is perfect for two.

There were two chicken thighs left over from a previous meal and one artichoke that My Beloved brought home last weekend when he drove through Watsonville on his way to a race. I wasn't sure that was enough to make a meal, but what the heck!  As we are about to embark on a long trip, I needed to use up all the fresh things in the fridge.

Really, all I did was make a slurry of olive oil and spices in the bottom of the tagine, dredge the chicken in that flavorful oil, add some aromatics with the quartered artichoke, pop on the lid, and set it in a cold oven. Because it is made of pottery, it's not a good idea to place it directly into a hot oven. I set the oven to 200F, then raised it to 250F when the light blinked off, then again to 325F and let it go for about 90 minutes.

The lid keeps all the moisture in and funnels it back down over the food, so all the flavors are intensified and melded. What emerged from the tagine was a wonderfully moist and flavorful one-pot meal, complete with goozle on the bottom. I didn't have the traditional couscous on hand so instead I made do with some sourdough bread left over from the day before - it made a fine sponge for soaking up all that lovely juice.

By the time you read this, we will be on our way! Exciting as our trip will be, I'm already looking forward to getting home and making more tagine meals. It's always good to go, and always good to get back home, isn't it?

Tagine Chicken with Artichokes and Green Olives. Serves 2

2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 teaspoon each ground coriander, ground ginger, sweet paprika, cumin powder
Pepper to taste
8 whole green olives (I used Castelvetrano olives since I had them on hand)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon, plus 4 thin slivers of the rind
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thickly
2 chicken thighs
1 artichoke, trimmed, quartered and cleaned of the fuzzies and smallest leaves. (Scoop them out with a teaspoon)
1/2 onion, cut into four spears through the root end
A splash of tea (you could use chicken broth, but I didn't have any on hand, and we decided we liked the extra body the sauce got from the tea)

A handful of shelled, salted pistachios for garnish
A few fresh cilantro leaves for garnish


In the bottom of the tagine, pour in the oil and mix in the spices to make a loose paste. Turn the chicken pieces in the paste to coat on all sides. Squeeze the half lemon over the chicken, pepper it, and add the garlic, olives, onion, artichoke, lemon slices, and tea. Put the lid on the tagine and place it in a cold oven. 

*My oven uses a "hellfire" broiler to pre-heat, so I placed the tagine in the bottom of the oven away from the flames. Sudden heat is not good for pottery pieces.

Turn the oven on to 200F and let it preheat with the tagine inside. When it reaches that temperature (just a few minutes, really), raise the temperature to 250F, then to 325F when 250F is reached. Bake for about 90 minutes and serve over couscous, garnished with the pistachios and the cilantro.