The 20 best Mediterranean recipes: part 3 (2024)

Claudia Roden’s djaj bil assal – chicken with caramelised baby onions and honey

This is one of the classics of Moroccan cooking and this version, with shallots or baby onions, is sensational. The art is to reduce the sauce at the end until it is rich and caramelised. It is important to taste in order to get the right balance between sweet and savoury.

Serves 4
shallots or baby onions 500g
onion 1, chopped
sunflower oil 4 tbsp
saffron threads a good pinch
ground ginger 1 tsp
ground cinnamon 1 tsp
chicken 1, jointed
salt and black pepper
clear honey 1-1½ tbsp
blanched almonds 100g, or a handful of sesame seeds, to garnish (optional)

To peel the shallots or baby onions, blanch them in boiling water for 5 minutes and when cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and trim the root ends.

Soften the chopped onion in the oil over a medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan or casserole dish large enough to hold the chicken pieces in one layer. Stir in the saffron, ginger and cinnamon, then put in the chicken. Season with salt and pepper, and turn to brown lightly all over.

Add about 250ml water and cook, covered, over a low heat, turning the pieces over, for 15 minutes or until the chicken breasts are done. Lift out the breasts and put them on one side. Add the shallots or baby onions and continue to cook, covered, for about 25 minutes, or until the remaining chicken pieces are tender. During the cooking, turn the chicken pieces and stir the onions occasionally; add a little water if necessary.

Lift out the chicken pieces, and set to one side. Stir the honey into the pan. Check the seasoning. You need quite a bit of pepper to mitigate the sweetness. Cook, uncovered, until all the water has evaporated, and the onions are brown and caramelised, and so soft that you could crush them, as they say in Morocco, “with your tongue”.

Return the chicken pieces to the pan, spoon the onions on top of them and heat through. A few minutes should be enough. Serve, if you wish, sprinkled either with blanched almonds fried in a drop of oil until they are lightly golden, or with toasted sesame seeds.

From Arabesque by Claudia Roden (Michael Joseph, £30)

Nigel Slater’s sea bass with lemon potatoes

The 20 best Mediterranean recipes: part 3 (1)

Baking a joint of meat or a large fish on top of a layer of potatoes is a reliable way of ensuring they stay moist. The juices from the roast are soaked up by the potatoes, making sure that not a drop of flavour is wasted. Large fish such as sea bass and sea bream can be cooked in this way, as can Cornish mullet. Line-caught, ocean-friendly sea bass is not too difficult to find. I reckon on a 1kg fish being enough for two.

Enough for 2
For the fish
sea bass a whole fish, cleaned but left on the bone
olive oil
oregano a little, dried or fresh

For the potatoes
waxy-fleshed potatoes 500g, such as Anya or Pink Fir Apple
olive oil
lemon 1 large
anchovy fillets 12
vegetable stock 250ml

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Slice each potato three or four times. If you do this lengthways you will end up with long, elegant pieces. Warm a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a roasting tin over a moderately hot flame, then put the potatoes in and let them colour on both sides. They cook best if you leave them alone for several minutes in between stirring. You want them to be pale gold on both sides. Cut the lemon in half, then into thick segments. Add to the potatoes with the anchovy, and a grinding of black pepper and then pour over the stock.

Lay the fish on top of the potatoes, brush with a little olive oil, then add the herbs and a mild seasoning of salt and black pepper. Bake in the preheated oven until the flesh will slide easily away from the bone in big juicy pieces. This will take a matter of 25-30 minutes. Serve the fish with the potatoes and spoon over the stock.

From Tender Volume I by Nigel Slater (4th Estate, £30)

Pierre Koffmann’s lamb couscous

The 20 best Mediterranean recipes: part 3 (2)

In France, couscous is the national dish! The French absolutely love it. When I was in the army doing my national service in Toulon, the way to please our superiors was to make a couscous.

A good couscous is a beautiful thing, yet like so many dishes that have migrated, it can be done badly. A proper couscous is a labour of love. It begins with the grains themselves – traditionally, women roll the mixture of coarse semolina (farina), semolina flour and water in their hands to make the tiny granules. To watch them, as I’ve been lucky enough to do, is to be treated to an incredible sight; their skill is mesmerizing. Then comes the making of the dish itself, which in North African homes is an expression of love, generosity and hospitality. A lady I know butterflies her lamb and roasts it very, very slowly. The aroma of the spices – cinnamon and saffron, turmeric and cumin – riding in the steam of the simmering lamb and slowly filling her kitchen is intoxicating.

Serves 4
lamb rump steaks 4 x 150g
vegetable oil 2 tbsp
carrots 120g, chopped
courgettes 120g, chopped
turnips 120g, chopped
chickpeas 1 x 400g can, drained
merguez sausages 4
harissa paste 2 tbsp
salt and pepper

For the lamb stock
olive oil 100ml
lamb bones 2kg
carrots 2, roughly chopped
onions 3, roughly chopped
garlic 5 cloves
bouquet garni 1 (see below)
tomato puree 2 tbsp
cinnamon stick 1 small
ground ginger 1 tbsp
ground coriander 1 tbsp
paprika 1 tbsp
saffron threads a pinch

For the couscous
couscous 300g medium
cumin 1 tbsp
sultanas 80g
olive oil 3 tbsp
ground turmeric 1½ tsp
saffron threads a pinch

For the bouquet garni
celery 1 stick
flat-leaf parsley 4 stalks
bay leaf 1
thyme 2 sprigs
green leek leaves 3

For the bouquet garni, wrap the celery, parsley, bay leaf and thyme in the leek leaves, and tie in three places with string.

Start by making the lamb stock. Heat a large pan, wide and deep enough to hold the bones. Add the olive oil, then the bones and leave them to brown over a medium heat. Add the remaining ingredients, then pour in enough cold water just to cover. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer for 2 hours. At this point, taste and check the flavour, then pass the stock through a sieve and set aside.

Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.

Season the lamb all over. Heat an ovenproof frying pan and when hot, add the oil, then the lamb steaks and seal the meat. Transfer to the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Remove and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

While the lamb is cooking, cook each chopped vegetable separately in boiling salted water, until al dente. Drain well and transfer to a small saucepan. Mix with the chickpeas and keep warm over a low heat.

Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and fry the merguez until cooked through.

For the couscous, place the couscous and the other couscous ingredients in a large bowl. Pour in just enough boiling water to cover (about 400ml), mix well and leave to stand for a few minutes until the couscous has absorbed all the water.

While the lamb is resting, measure 250ml of the lamb stock. Place in a small pan, stir in the harissa paste and warm through. To serve, transfer the couscous to a warm serving bowl. Slice the merguez and mix with the vegetables. Place the lamb on the couscous, arrange the vegetables alongside and serve immediately with the harissa sauce.

From Classic Koffmann by Pierre Koffmann (Jacqui Small, £30)

Colman Andrews’ bunyols de bacallà – salt cod fritters

The 20 best Mediterranean recipes: part 3 (3)

In one form or another, these little bacallà-anâ potato puffs are a classic tapa in Catalonia, and are often brought as a complimentary appetiser in some of the region’s better restaurants. The highly acclaimed Hispania, just northeast of Barcelona, outside the seaside town of Arenys de Mar, doesn’t give them away – but their free-form parsley-flecked version is one of the best I’ve ever had. This recipe is theirs.

To serve 4 (as appetiser)
salt cod 500g, desalted (see directions below) and cut into several pieces
bay leaf 1
potatoes 2 medium, peeled and sliced very thinly
olive oil
plain flour 60g
eggs 3
garlic 2 cloves, finely chopped
parsley 2 sprigs, finely chopped
salt and pepper

To desalt the cod, soak it in plain water, in the fridge, for about 48 hours. Change the water three or four times each day.

Once desalted, place the salt cod and bay leaf in cold water to cover; then bring to just below the boiling point on medium heat. Cover and let the pot stand off the heat for about 10 minutes.

Remove the salt cod from the water and cool, setting the water aside.

When the fish has cooled, remove the skin or bones, if any, and flake the flesh with a fork.

Cook the potatoes until soft in the reserved salt-cod water, then drain, discarding the water.

In another pan, bring 300ml water and 2 tablespoons oil to a boil, then remove from the heat and slowly beat in the flour to form a batter. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Mash the salt cod, potato slices, garlic and parsley together well in a large bowl, add salt and pepper to taste; then mix the batter into the salt cod mixture.

Cook on a low flame until the mixture thickens slightly and will hold its shape when formed into balls.

Fill a cassola or other deep pan with at least 2½cm of oil (or use a deep-frier) and heat the oil to 190C.

Form salt-cod balls in the bowl of a deep spoon, then fry in batches until deep golden-brown.

Drain on paper towels before serving, but serve very hot.

From Catalan Cuisine by Colman Andrews (Grub Street, £14.99)

José Pizarro’s hanging poached peaches with lemon and olive-oil ice cream

The 20 best Mediterranean recipes: part 3 (4)

In Spain, they wrap the peaches in tissue paper when they are hanging in the tree so I love the idea of “hanging poached peaches”. You can make the peaches and keep them preserved in bottles. My mum used to do this so we could eat peaches throughout the year. For the ice cream, use the best fruity Arbequina olive oil that you can find – it is perfectly mild and fruity.

Serves 4
peaches 4 large, ripe
vanilla pod 1
sweet white wine 500ml, such as Moscatel de Chipiona
clear honey 2 tbsp

For the ice cream
whole milk 200ml
egg yolks 5 large
caster sugar 100g
double cream 300ml
lemon finely grated zest of 1
fruity Arbequina olive oil 150ml

For the ice cream, bring the milk to the boil in a medium pan. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and thick. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, strain the mixture back into the pan and cook over a gentle heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat, leave to cool, then stir in the cream, lemon zest and olive oil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, churn the ice cream mixture either in an ice-cream machine, or pour it into a shallow container and freeze until almost solid. Scrape into the bowl of a food processor and blend briefly until smooth, then return to the container and freeze once more. Repeat this 2-3 times more until the mixture is very smooth. Return to the freezer for 6 hours until firm or until needed.

Put the peaches into a heatproof bowl. Fill another bowl with iced water. Cover the peaches with boiling water and leave for 30 seconds, then remove and drop into the iced water. The skins should now peel away easily.

Slice the vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds with a tip of a knife. Put the pod and seeds into a pan (choose one in which the peaches will fit snugly in a single layer) with the sweet wine and honey and heat gently until the honey has dissolved. Add the peaches, bring to a simmer, cover and cook very gently for 15 minutes, carefully turning them over now and then with a wooden spoon, until they are just tender and can be pierced easily through to the stone with a co*cktail stick.

When the peaches are cooked, gently transfer them and the vanilla pod to a bowl. Return the syrup to the heat and boil rapidly until reduced to 200ml. Leave to cool, then pour back over the peaches and chill until needed. Serve with the olive oil and lemon ice cream.

From José Pizarro’s Spanish Flavours by José Pizarro (Kyle Books, £19.99)

The 20 best Mediterranean recipes: part 3 (2024)
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