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Take your sweet time with a Moroccan meat pie

My wife is a wonderful cook, but she is not one to improvise. While I’m happy to get home at 7pm and rustle up dinner for eight people from odds and ends, Mima likes to plan in advance. When cooking for lots of people, she takes a day off work, draws up a spreadsheet and turns the kitchen into a cabinet war-room, with maps and timelines and Post-its fluttering on the walls.

I must concede that her results are more consistent than mine, and that our guests are more likely to get pudding if she has been behind the hob. (Although I still maintain – against received wisdom – that my haggis meatballs with tagliatelli were a triumph of culinary invention.)

And actually, it is a wonderful thing to put aside a day for cooking: to slow right down, turn off your phone and enjoy the meditative pleasure that comes from carrying out attending to lots of little physical tasks, which together create something much larger than their parts.

Today’s recipe is just such a thing; a Moroccan feasting dish more commonly made with squab pigeon. Transliteration has blessed it it with many names. But whether you call it pastilla, bastilla, bisteeya, b’stilla, or bstilla, this meat pie is best made slowly, with the radio on and the windows open and a summer day stretching ahead of you.

You will find that, although there are lots of different steps, none of them are especially difficult. The two things that are most likely to go wrong are that you burn your nuts or your pastry, so be careful at these points. Otherwise, block some time out and just enjoy the simple pleasure of cooking at leisure.

Chicken bisteeya

The day before: The pie can be made in any large ovenproof shallow pan or cake tin, one about 24-26cm in diameter. This can be served as a starter or main course, or with fresh salads such as carrot and beetroot, fennel, radish and watercress or braised beans and peas with mint – recipes for which you can find at the end of this article.

Serves 6
For the chicken
6/7 chicken thighs (about 1kg), bone in and skin on
1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
A pinch of saffron
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2cm piece ginger, peeled and grated
2cm stick of cinnamon
Seeds of 3 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tsp ground coriander
1 heaped tsp sweet paprika
500ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper

For the eggs
100ml reduced stock
3 eggs
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp chopped parsley

For the almonds
150g flaked almonds
1 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Finely grated zest of 1 orange

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For the cabbage
½ small savoy or pointed cabbage, outer leaves removed and leaves thinly shredded.

For the chicken livers
250g trimmed chicken livers
1 tbsp olive oil

For the pie
6 sheets filo pastry

125g butter, melted

1 Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and fry the chicken thighs skin-side down until browned. Turn over and repeat on the other side. Remove the thighs and pour away any excess fat, leaving about 1-2 tbsp in the pan.

2 Add the onion, saffron, garlic, ginger and spices to the pan and cook gently for about 10 minutes without colouring the onions. Add the chicken stock along with the thighs and bring up to a simmer. Cook over a low heat for about 40 minutes or until the thigh meat is falling away from the bone. Allow to cool down in the stock until warm. Strain through a sieve and pour the strained stock back into the pan.

3 Strip the meat from the thighs and shred it. Discard the bones, skin and cinnamon stick. Mix the chicken meat with the onion mix and stick it in the fridge until it is time to assemble the pie.

4 Boil the strained stock until it has reduced to about 100ml, then remove from the heat and leave until warm.

5 Place the warm stock back on a low heat. Beat the eggs well. Pour them into the stock and stir slowly with a wooden spoon. After a few minutes the eggs will start to scramble: keep cooking until they’re fairly dry. Remove from the heat and stir in the fresh herbs. Pour into a container.

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6 Toast the almonds in a large frying pan over a medium heat until golden brown. Allow to cool. Chop roughly and mix with the sugar, cinnamon and orange zest.

7 Cook the cabbage in salted boiling water for a few minutes until tender – drain, refresh under cold water and dry well. Season with salt and pepper.

8 Fry the trimmed chicken livers in a little olive oil in a hot pan for a minute or so on either side. They should still be pink in the middle. Remove from pan and allow to cool.

9 Store everything in the fridge.

On the day: Allow the different components back to get to room temperature. If frozen, defrost the filo in the fridge. It will stop it drying out and make it easier to handle.

1 Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. On a clean, dry work surface, lay out a clean tea towel. Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of your pan with lots of melted butter.

2 Take one sheet of filo, brush with butter and fold over on itself. Put it half in the middle of the dish and half hanging over the side. Brush with more butter and repeat the process with 3 more sheets of filo, overlapping each other so that the base is covered with an overhang round the pan.

3 Now fill the pie by layering half the almond mix over the base. Follow with half the cabbage, then all the chicken, egg and chicken livers. Top with the rest of the cabbage and finish with the almonds, reserving a few for garnishing the pie.

4 Fold the filo over the pie and brush with butter. Butter the two remaining sheets of filo, then fold and lay them over the top of the pie, tucking down the edges to seal.

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5 Bake for 20–30 minutes until browned all over. Dusted with icing sugar, cinnamon and the remaining flaked almonds and serve.

Side dishes:

Carrot and beetroot salad

3 carrots, peeled and grated
2 beetroot, peeled and grated
Juice and grated zest of 1 orange
2 tsp honey
½ garlic clove, crushed
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

1 Mix together the grated veg.

2 Whisk the dressing ingredients together and toss together with the coriander.

Fennel, radish and watercress salad

Fennel, radish and watercress salad

1 fennel bulb, shaved very thinly
8 radishes, sliced thinly
100g watercress, washed, dried and trimmed
50g feta, diced
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped chives
A sprinkle of sumac

1 In a large bowl fold the fennel, radish and watercress together with the feta.

2 Whisk the vinegar and oil together. Just before serving toss with the veg. Sprinkle with chives and sumac.

Braised beans and peas with mint

If fresh are hard to come by, substitute with frozen.

150g broad beans
150g peas
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp chopped mint

1 Blanch the broad beans and peas in salted water until tender and drain.

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2 Cook the onion in oil for 10 minutes over a low heat until soft. Add the garlic and cumin and cook for another minute before adding the peas and beans . Braise for 5 minutes together and finish with chopped mint. Season well with salt and pepper.


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