Foodie heaven in Moroccan town

Philippe Agnello, head chef at Momo, explains how to make an authentic pigeon pastille

I was in Morocco visiting a very good friend of mine, Omar, who returns to his hometown every summer. His family lives in Kebdani, a small remote village near Nador in northern Morocco where few tourists stray and it is rich in history and tradition. The people are very hospitable but live in quite an old fashioned style – hunting, fishing and growing produce on the land around them.

One day I was working with him in the countryside when an old man stopped us and spoke to my friend in their local dialect. He was talking and gesturing quite aggressively, so I asked what he was saying – he was upset that we had passed by his home without staying for tea. I was touched at his generosity, at his desire to share when he had so little to give. So we went for tea at the old man’s house. An hour later I had a big pigeon pastilla placed in front of me – sweet, generous, full of flavour and, for me, representative of the people and the country around me.

Of course, I had to try to make this myself, so we returned to my friend’s place, sourced vegetables from the garden, the locals hunted down some pigeons for me, and I had my very first experience of creating the pigeon pastilla. Both these meals were among the most memorable of my life – steeped in tradition and enjoyed in the company of friends and new acquaintances. I endeavour to replicate the essence of that meal at Momo, cooked on our Josper oven rather than a wooden oven, but with the same tradition and spirit behind it. The pastilla is our best seller – more delicate and nuttier for the British palette, but with the same depth of flavour and some of that same hospitality, character, ambiance and warmth that I experienced in Morocco.

Dis of the day

Philippe Agnello’s
Pigeon Pastilla

4 squab pigeons (game)
4 medium white onions (sliced)
2 bunches of coriander
1 bunch of parsley
10g grated fresh ginger
salt and black pepper
3 pinches of saffron
7 eggs
250g butter
20g caster sugar
3 pieces of cinnamon stick
5g ground cinnamon
2 tsps ground ginger
2 tsps turmeric
5g icing sugar
15g toasted flaked almonds
20g roasted whole almonds (chopped)
8 sheets of brick pastry (or filo)

Season the pigeon with salt and pepper, and brown it quickly in a pan with some olive oil and a pinch of ginger powder, turmeric and cinnamon powder. Remove it from the pan and add the white onions with the rest of the spices (cinnamon powder and stick, turmeric, ginger, saffron, caster sugar, grated fresh ginger, a bunch of coriander, a bunch of parsley, caster sugar, salt, pepper) and cook it for about 2 minutes. Remove from the pan. Add 230 g of butter and put the pigeon back into the pan and cover with the onions, put on the lid and cook gently for 45 minutes.

While the pigeon is cooking, roast the whole and flaked almonds separately in the oven, and finally chop one bunch of coriander. When the whole almonds have cooled down, chop them all.

Remove the pigeon from the pan, and put aside to cool down. Beat the eggs with a fork and add them to the onion until it’s scrambled, then set aside. Separate the flesh of the pigeon from the bones, cut into small cubes and add it to the onion and eggs. Add the chopped almonds into the mixture and the fresh chopped coriander.

Spread the rest of the butter over all the pastry (2 leaves, one on top of the other) , put the mixture in the middle and add 2 more buttered leaves. Close them to form a nice round shape, about 1 cm thick and cook the pastilla in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius, for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

When it’s cooked sprinkle the pastilla with icing sugar and cinnamon powder, garnish with flaked almonds on top.