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Tunisian Egg and Parsley Tagine

    Many visitors to this site are familiar with Moroccan tagines---stews of meat, poultry, or fish smothered with one or two vegetables or fruits, cooked in an earthenware dish with a conical cover.

    Tunisian tagines are different. Tunisian cooks, when speaking of tagines, will refer to their having a "beginning," a "middle," and an "end."

    The "beginning" is usually a mini-stew of veal or lamb cut into very small pieces and cooked with onions and spices such as sweet-smelling dried rosebuds and cinnamon or a robust combination of ground coriander and caraway. Then something starchy is added to thicken the juices---white beans, chick-peas, bread crumbs or cubed potatoes. When the meat is tender, it is combined with whatever ingredient has been chosen to be the dominant flavoring---fresh parsley, dried mint, cheese, stewed vegetables, or even stewed calf's brains.

    The "middle" part is the enrichment of the stew with cheese and eggs.

    The "end" is the final baking in a deep pie dish, either on the stove or int he oven until both top and bottom are crisply cooked and the eggs are just set, somewhat like an Italian frittata. When the tagine is ready, it is turned out onto a plate and sliced into squares, accompanied by wedges of lemon.

    In rural parts of Tunisia, home cooks place a shallow earthenware dish over glowing olive wood, fill it, cover it with a flat earthen pan, and then pile hot coals on top. The resulting tagine is crusty on top and bottom, moist within, and is infused with a subtle smoky fragrance.

   Traditionally this tagine is served with a salad of peppers, onions, garlic cloves and tomatoes roasted in the embers (see recipe below)

Serves 8 as part of a Tunisian Buffet.
1/4 cup dried white beans, soaked overnight
8 ounces lean boneless lamb shoulder, coarsely ground
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup minced onion
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3 packed cups chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/3 cup)
3 ounces Gruyere cheese, cubed (about 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon Tunisian bharat (dried rosebuds rubbed through a sieve and mixed with ground cinnamon)
6 large eggs
6 lemon wedges

1. Drain the beans, cover with fresh water, and cook until they are half tender, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the lamb into 1/2-inch cubes and toss with salt and pepper.

2. Heat 1 1/4 tablespoons oil in a 10-inch skillet. Cook the onion until translucent, add the meat, and saute for 5 minutes. Cover the skillet and cook over low heat until the meat gives off its moisture and reabsorbs it. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until lamb cubes are well coated. Add cayenne, the beans, and about 1 cup of the bean cooking liquid. Cover the skillet and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes longer, or until the meat and beans are fully cooked and the juices are thick. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. (Up to this point the dish can be made 1 day in advance. Return to room temperature before proceeding.)

3. Place the oven rack in the second highest position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

4. In a mixing bowl, combine the contents of the skillet, the parsley, 1/3 cup of the bread crumbs, grated Parmesan, and cubed Gruyere, mixing well. Season highly with salt, pepper, and sieved bharat. Beat the eggs to a froth and add to the mixture.

5. Use the remaining oil to coat the bottom and sides of a 5- or 6-cup baking dish, or an attractive 9-inch well-seasoned oven proof skillet. Place the prepared mixture in the dish, sprinkle with reserved bread crumbs and set in the oven to bake for 12 minutes. Raise the oven heat to the highest setting, remove the tagine from the oven, tilt the dish so that the oil collects in one place, then brush this oil over the surface of the tagine. Return the dish to the oven and bake for 8 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature from the dish.

For more Tunisian recipes see:
 Paula Wolfert's MediterraneanCooking, revised edition and Mediterranean Grains and Greens

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