There is a national movement happening this Easter: a quiet, collective exhortation to the weather gods for balmy temperatures. Unlike last year, there is the possibility of seeing a few friends or family in the garden, and the prospect of sitting around a table and enjoying food with people I love is giddy-making. This celebratory pastilla should rise to the occasion, taking the premise of a chicken pastilla (a Moroccan dish I adore) and giving it a lovely, spring-time feel with minced lamb. I hope you like it.
Subtle, warming spices, crisp, golden pastry, delightfully fatty lamb mince: there is nothing not to love here.
Prep 10 min
Soak 10 min
Cook 1 hr 20 min
175g basmati rice, rinsed, then soaked in cold water for 10 minutes
1 big pinch saffron threads
Salt and pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
400g lamb mince
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground cinnamon
75g flaked almonds, toasted in a dry frying pan
4 tbsp tomato puree
1 x 270g pack filo pastry sheets (ie, 7 sheets)
1 tsp nigella seeds
Heat the oven to 160C (140C fan)/310F/gas 2½. Drain the rice and tip into a saucepan with the saffron and a teaspoon of salt. Cover with 350ml cold water and bring to a boil. Cover, turn down the heat to medium-low and cook for 10-12 minutes, until the water has been absorbed (it is best slightly undercooked at this stage). Take off the heat, cover and leave to rest.
Heat a pan over a high heat, add a third of the oil and stir-fry the lamb for five to six minutes, seasoning generously. Once the lamb is darkening in colour and smelling delicious, transfer to a bowl and add another third of the oil to the pan. Turn down the heat to medium, add the onions, season generously and cook for six to eight minutes, until softened. Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring, for another two or three minutes, then return the lamb to the pan and add the spices and almonds. Stir-fry for a few minutes, so the flavours get a chance to gel, then stir in the tomato paste, sultanas and a cup of water and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Line the base of a medium-sized baking dish with four sheets of filo, brushing each one with the remaining oil and making sure they cover the whole dish and hang over the edges a little. Fluff the rice with a fork, then spread a third of it over the pastry. Top with half the lamb mix, spreading it out evenly, then repeat with another layer of a third of the rice, the rest of the lamb and finishing with the final third of rice. Fold the overhanging filo over the filling, then gently scrunch the remaining three sheets and arrange on top, to cover the filling. Drizzle with a little oil, then scatter over the nigella seeds.
Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the pastry is golden, and serve with garlic yoghurt, lemon wedges and a meze of vegetable dishes and/or salads.
Make double the mince; it makes a great jacket potato filling and is brilliant added to quick lunchtime flatbreads, with or without the extravagant saffron.