Artichoke and Green Olive B’stilla with a side of roasted tomatoes
B’stilla is a filo pastry encased pie, fried in a pan rather than baked in the oven. It is traditionally filled with poussin or chicken and dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon in a diamond shape configuation and is considered the crowning glory of the Moroccan kitchen.
This all - vegetable interpretation, maintains a Moroccan influence, with its use of preserved lemon, saffron and green olives but has otherwise nothing to do with the traditional recipe.
You can (and I do) use the idea in a hundred ways with fillings as familiar as pumpkin and goats cheese, or spinach with feta – layering differently coloured vegetables, red and yellow peppers, courgettes and aubergines among them, makes a B’stilla which cuts beautifully revealing its rainbow layers. Or you can make it truly exotic – and this is probably my favourite version - with a confit of golden shallots and whole garlic cloves, blanched almonds, a layer of Meredith Goats’ Cheese (an Australian goats cheese which can be replaced by any Feta or soft, salty cheese), topped with a layer of cut, ripe fresh figs. I teach both the latter and the recipe given below often and people are always bowled over.
Serve with a sharp, peppery rocket and radicchio salad, casually tossed in olive oil, a white balsamic if you can find it and a scrunch of sea salt. If you need more than this, then crunchily roasted small potatoes and a bowl of soft greens of any kind go perfectly.
3 - 4 whole, quite large artichokes, fresh and in season
2 tbs light olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
450g small, waxy salad potatoes, peeled and sliced pencil thick
A fat pinch of saffron, left to brew in 275ml of hot water
2 fat, juicy garlic cloves, thinly sliced
150g meaty – fleshed green olives (organic Sicilian are excellent), pitted and sliced to the thickness of a $2.00/pound coin
A small handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
A small handful of chives, very finely snipped
1/2 a small preserved lemon, chopped
1 – 2 tbs thick (double) cream
5 sheets filo pastry
90g butter, melted or 90ml olive oil
1 crêpe size frying pan, non stick is best and lighter
To prepare the artichokes, slice them down the middle, lengthways.
Remove the hairy choke and cut them into thick slices, rubbing with lemon juice and putting the slices in a pan of water, acidulated with lemon juice until ready to use.
Heat the oil in a pan, add the red onion and fry till translucent.
Remove the onion from the pan, using a slotted spoon and shaking off as much of the oil back into the pan as you can and set aside.
Add the potatoes to this now onion - infused oil, toss and fry for a few minutes to tinge them with gold, add the saffron stock, every last drop and filament of it and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
Either wait till the potatoes are cooked and re - use the same pan, or in a separate pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and tumble the sliced artichokes and garlic into it. You want the artichokes to go a fine shade of golden brown but for the garlic not to colour much at all. You can use little splatterings of saffron stock to keep every thing moving, so that the juices once reduced leave you with a spoon of sauce in the pan. The potatoes should have cooked to perfect tenderness without having reached the point of collapse. Gently fold in the green olives, the chopped preserved lemon and fried red onion.
Again, folding rather than stirring, carefully add the double or thick cream to the potatoes and speckle with the chopped parsley and chives.
Allow to cool a little - a lovely pan of springtime green and sunshine yellow that can be eaten just as is.
But there’s more.
Lightly brush a 23cm diameter frying pan with olive oil and heat over a medium heat.
Place the sheets of filo on a clean, dry surface. Cut each sheet into three wide strips and pile on top of each other to stop them from drying out. Brush the top piece with melted butter (or olive oil) and place in the hot (though not too hot) pan, then do the same to the next sheet and lay it, at right angles on top of the first. Continue in this way till you have used 12 pieces, in other words, 4 whole sheets, cut up and overlapping all the way round the pan.
Spoon first the combined potato, olive, preserved lemon and onion to form the first layer and then the fried artichokes onto the pastry, folding the overlapping pieces of filo over, so the filling is securely encased. Tuck in any stray pieces and brush the top generously with butter or olive oil.
Use the remaining pieces of filo to finish off and tidy the top of the B'stilla before turning it over onto the second side.
Place the pan over a medium heat and fry for about 2 minutes, until golden brown and crisp underneath. You can check for this by gingerly sliding a palette knife under and sneaking a peak. If it isn’t quite golden yet, continue for a moment till it is.
Then place a large plate over the pan, hold it tightly and flip over. Slide the pie back into the pan, cooked side up and brown the underside for another two minutes or so. Don’t worry if it slips a bit – you can push it back together and reshape it in the pan, if necessary.
When it is suitably golden on both sides, you can serve straight from the pan or turn it out onto a plate which always creates a little buzz of anticipation, crisp and light as you’ll see and all of a golden sizzle. Serve at once.
If you cut it with a finely serrated knife, you’ll get wedges that properly hold their shape and filling.