Fall is not yet here, but the scent of it freshens the evening air as the sun drops below the horizon, turning my thoughts for the first time in many months to stew. But not a thick, heavy stew. No, not as summer still stretches through the daylight hours, not as the distant buzz of lawn mowers still arises at dusk as fireflies come out to play. At times such as these I prefer a light stew with bright, fresh flavors. I came upon a lamb tagine recipe by Sam and Sam Clarke that seemed perfect.
After taking a left turn, a sharp right, and then a quick curve down a winding slope, their recipe transformed from the original into this personalized version. It is exactly what I wanted. Simple, fragrantly spiced, with the bright pop of peas, the richness of tomatoes, and the tender density of chicken. It can be made in well less than an hour, rather than simmering on the stove for half a day and heating the house like many stews. Paulo and I ate it for dinner over whole wheat couscous while sipping glasses of chilled Macabeo (which seemed fitting given Spain’s proximity to Morocco). The fireflies lit, the distant lawnmowers hummed, as the the sun descended and sent that shiver of autumn through the yard.
Chicken Tagine with Peas and Tomatoes
3 T olive oil
2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp hot paprika
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 cinnamon stick
2 onions, chopped
14 oz can diced tomatoes, with juice (preferably fire-roasted)
3 cups water
1 1/2 lbs chicken thighs
1 lb frozen peas, thawed
Heat the oil in a wide, deep pan until it shimmers. Add the paprikas, cumin, and cinnamon stick, and stir until the kitchen fills with lovely fragrance. Stir in the onion and saute until it begins to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the water along with 1 tsp of salt, and heat, covered, until the mixture begins to boil. In the meantime strip the skin off the chicken and trim away any visible fat (scissors work well for doing this). When the mixture comes to a boil, slip in the thighs. Bring back to a boil. Cover, turn down the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. (Boiling leaches out flavor and toughens the bird.)
At this point you may do one of two things. If you wish to serve the tagine immediately, add the peas, simmer just until the peas heat through, add salt and pepper if needed, and serve. (You want the peas to be plump and bright green.)
Or, if you wish to serve the dish an hour or two later, turn off the heat and let the tagine rest on the stove, covered. (Doing so will deepen the complexity of the flavors, and will also make the chicken even more tender.) When you are ready to serve, simply reheat, add the peas, adjust the seasonings, and serve.