Lamb casserole with apricots and preserved lemon

Moroccan lambLooking back over the last couple of weeks, it strikes me that I’m cooking an awful lot of orange stuff. (There are things you’ve not seen, too – I find myself repeatedly making potatoes mashed with swede and carrot as a side dish, and roasting butternut squashes for my lunch.) I am guessing that this has something to do with shortening days and a craving for sunshine, and that after we start getting more sunlight again after December 21, I’ll start moving towards yellow food and onward through the spectrum until we get back to the tomato season again.

This is another recipe for those of you who made the preserved lemons from a few months back. They’re smelling just wonderful now; all the flavour has been pulled out of the spices in the jar and has lodged itself in the flesh of the lemons. Strangely Christmas-y, via Morocco.

The other ingredients in this recipe are largely Moroccan (although I doubt that a real Moroccan would look very kindly on the flour-thickened cider sauce). A few companies in the UK produce harissa, but I only recommend one – Belazu, who also make preserved lemons if you don’t have your own, do a very fine, warmly spiced harissa made with rose petals. It’s available in most supermarkets. I’ve tried a few other brands, and they are nothing like as good.

To serve two greedy people, you’ll need:

2-inch piece of ginger
5 cloves garlic
4 shallots
12 apricots
500g lamb neck fillets
1 tsp harissa
½ a preserved lemon
1 litre cider
1 sprig rosemary
1 tbsp flour
Oregano to garnish
Olive oil

Cut the lamb into cubes and heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan (as always, Le Creuset pans are your best bet here for a really even heat). When the oil is hot, brown the lamb pieces a few at a time and remove them to a bowl when seared.

When you have browned all the lamb, look at the pan – if there is only very little oil left, add another tablespoonful. Bring the heat down to medium and add the shallots to the pan. When the shallots are beginning to take on some colour, add the sliced garlic, the julienned ginger, the lamb, the diced skin of the half-lemon (reserve the flesh) and the apricots to the pan. Cook, stirring well, for another five minutes, then add the flour to the pan, stirring to make sure the flour is coating everything.

Pour the cider over the lamb and add the diced flesh of the lemon, the rosemary and the harissa to the mixture. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover and leave to simmer for two hours. When the two hours are up, taste the sauce. You may not need to add any salt (there is lots in the lemon), but I found an extra teaspoonful made the balance just right. Garnish the dish with oregano.

The cider will have turned into a sweetly fruity sauce, and the lamb will be extremely tender. I served this with mashed potato, but it’s also very good with couscous.

Pork stuffed with an apricot and tarragon butter

Pork fillet is a lovely cut of meat, but it lacks the fat found in other bits of the pig needed to make it really glossy and toothsome when cooked. The easiest and most delicious way to remedy this is to cut channels into the meat and stuff them with a flavoured butter, wrapping the whole fillet in Parma ham to keep things together.

I chose an apricot and tarragon butter here; the two flavours are great together and complement the pork beautifully. I used the Magimix to make the butter, but if you don’t have a food processor, just chop all the solid ingredients finely and blend with the butter in a mortar and pestle. To serve four, you’ll need:

1 pork fillet (tenderloin)
4 oz salted butter
8 semi-dried apricots
1 fresh chilli, deseeded
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 large handful fresh tarragon
1 large handful fresh parsley
4 shallots
Juice of half a lemon
2 teaspoons soya sauce
8 slices Parma ham

Put the butter, lemon juice, soya sauce, apricots, herbs, spices and shallots into the bowl of a food processor and whizz until finely blended. Cut channels into the meat by pushing a knife straight into it at 5 cm intervals, and stuff the butter into them, smearing any extra over the surface of the joint. Wrap the joint tightly in Parma ham and secure with string.

Roast the fillet at 200° C for 40 minutes, and rest for five minutes before serving with potatoes and a green vegetable, the pan juices poured over the meat.