Faking It.

Date and Bacon pretend tagine.

A leaning tower of coucous.
A leaning tower of coucous.

I love tagines. A lot. Which is why I find the disappointment I experience from eating bad ones (I don’t do this on purpose, it just happens) so crushingly painful.  It’s kinda like being kicked in the nuts by a slutty Finnish gothic pixie right after she’s told you that the sex you’re about to have with her is going to require half a pound of melted chocolate, a splash pool, special lubricant made from the skin of alpine rabbits and a seven day recovery period:  the promise of pleasures to come is enough to moisten your pants-region right then and there, and then comes the severe pain, the inability to have children and the general air of regret that will last for at least the rest of the weekend.

The problem with getting a really good tagine is that you have to go to Morocco to get it. And Morocco is far. Unless of course you live in Morocco. In which case you probably hate stewed lamb and are just desperate for a decent cheeseburger.

So, the other night I had some leftover couscous that I wanted to use up and so started fooling around with a couple of things and this is what came out. Now, before you start jumping up and down with your hand up saying ‘me sir, me sir’, this is nothing close to a real tagine which is a rich, beautiful stew slowly cooked in clay pots buried in ashes, usually filled to the brim with lamb and preserved lemons and shaven bits of infidels – but there was just something in the spirit of these flavours that made me make the comparison.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 pack of streaky bacon

a handful of dates – depitted.

A bunch of fresh coriander

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped

1 medium white onion, also peeled and chopped

5 tomatoes

1 tbsp brown sugar

a handful of baby marrows

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 dried chilli

a handful of sliced raw almonds

grated parmesan

half a glass of dry white wine

olive oil

salt

black pepper

...for some reason I want to sing "Strangers in the Night" when I see this.
...for some reason I want to sing "Strangers in the Night" when I see this.

What to do

Wrap each rasher of bacon around a date, and then using a toothpick (I break them in half so they aren’t so long and I don’t have to use quite so many) fix it in place. Chop up a smallish bunch of the fresh coriander leaves and stalks, and have it ready along with the garlic and onions.

Heat some olive oil in a pan, add the onions and garlic and sweat them for about 2 to 3 minutes. Just when they’ve started to crisp at the edges, add the bacon-wrapped dates and the chopped coriander, turn up the heat and fry until the bacon is golden, then set aside. Once it’s cooled a bit, don’t forget to remove the toothpicks – the bacon-rolled dates should hold their shape very well once cooked.

Boil some water with a generous pinch of salt in a pot, then add the tomatoes. After about 3 minutes or so of boiling, the skin should start to split, which is the signal to get them out of there. After they’ve cooled, use your fingers to remove the skin (it’ll come off really easily), then chop them up roughly, sprinkle with salt, fresh ground black pepper and the tablespoon of sugar and set aside.

Heat up a pot, add the almonds and toast them, shaking them about to make sure they’re evenly done, then set aside.

In the meantime chop up the baby marrows (however you like to do them – I just slice them into thickish coins), de-seed and finely chop the dried chilli, soak the tablespoon of tomato paste in about 400 mls of just-boiled water and pre-heat your oven to about 160°C. Chop up the rest of the coriander.

Then, in a fairly spacious casserole dish, empty the bacon-dates, onion and garlic from the pan onto the bottom. Cover with the chopped tomatoes and baby marrow, sprinkle over the toasted almonds, most of the rest of chopped coriander (keep some to finish) and the chopped chilli. Then pour in the tomato juice made from the soaked paste and the white wine. Season with salt and pepper, put on the lid and the bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. Then take it out, sprinkle generously with parmesan and bake for another 5 or so minutes without the lid.

Serve with couscous.

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