French cuisine, at least a small corner of it, was infiltrated by North African forces beginning in the 1920s. Morocco had become a protectorate and a very stylish destination, and suddenly everybody who was anybody came back praising the virtues of tagines rich with lamb and fragrant with uncommon spices. We have a great affection for the country too, having lived there for several years—a life-changing experience, I assure you. So it was a pleasant surprise to stumble across a startlingly practical version of traditional lamb tagine in the pages of Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec’s La Cuisine de France (Orion, 1961).
Instead of using the conical ceramic cooking vessel traditional in Moroccan homes, the dish, sautée d’agneau au citron (sautéed lamb with lemon) is simply prepared in a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Thanks to junk-shop journeys we own a large covered cast-iron pot of uncertain provenance that worked wonderfully. Presumably a Le Creuset version would do the job just as well. In any case the sautéed lamb with lemon was shockingly delicious, almost as good as the tagines our beloved cook in Marrakech used to prepare when we lived there—even though for our dinner last night my husband could only find lamb chops at the market instead of the boned lamb shoulder specified in the recipe. The substitution worked like a charm. And it was almost embarrassingly easy. The side dishes we made to go with it were peas lightly cooked in butter and sublime braised endives, which I could have eaten all night, frankly.
SAUTEÉ D’AGNEAU AU CITRON
SOURCE: La Cuisine de France by Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec (Orion, 1961)
Serves 8 people
2-1/2 pounds boned shoulder of lamb
4 tablespoons oil
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large pinch saffron OR 3 teaspoons turmeric
Salt and pepper
Order the lamb cut for stew. Heat the oil in a deep pan and brown the meat on all sides.
Slice the lemon very thin and spread all of it—except the ends—on the meat. Add a cup of hot water and season with cinnamon, saffron or turmeric, salt, and pepper. Cover tightly and simmer 1 hour.
SOURCE: La Cuisine de France by Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec (Orion Press, 1961)
Serve 4 people
3 pounds endive
6 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
Wash and wipe the endives dry. Put them in a covered heavy saucepan with the butter. Season with salt and pepper and simmer very gently for 3 hours. Watch to see that they are evenly browned.
NOTE: We cooked the endive for 1 hour only, on the lowest flame possible, because they seemed to be getting brown much faster than we expected. The abbreviated cooking time was fine; the result was delicious. Our advice is to follow our lead—cook the endives for 1 hour rather than 3 hours.