Friday, July 2, 2010

The Food Desert Project - Moroccan B'stilla in Polenta Crust

Shortly after I began this blog, we attended a Pi day celebration.  A friend - familiar with this project, and something of a gastronome himself, had brought "Moorish Chicken Pie," a delightful savory-sweet combination of chicken, dried fruit, nuts, and complex moor-influenced seasonings he'd discovered in The New Spanish Table.  I mentioned that I'd been looking for a recipe where canned chicken might work, and thought it would do nicely in this capacity.

Moorish influences abound in Spanish cooking, but it turns out this particular recipe is one still made in Morocco, where it is called B'stilla - often made with squab, but with the same delectable sweet-savory mix this time wrapped in a type of phyllo pastry instead of puff pastry (phyllo is the one where you have single sheets of dough that you layer, spreading some kind of fat in between - puff pastry is that exceptionally buttery dough whose layers expand when they cook.  Both are much easier to purchase than to cook, and are available frozen.)

I had been casting about for a pastry recipe to use with this pie that would suit this project - but I wanted to find something that was relatively healthy.  Unfortunately, one of the defining features of pastry is a lot of added fat (see Pie in the Sky for the Fourth of July,) not necessarily a terrific choice for food desert dwellers trying to improve what they eat.  Phyllo would work admirably in this situation - just wrap the filling as you would a spanakopita - but I wasn't certain of its availability in the food desert.

I did a bit of searching, and found that polenta - a healthy food in its own right - is often used as a crust for lowfat quiches.  Polenta, interestingly, doesn't appear in Morocco often, perhaps because semolina couscous is the preferred starch there - although another primarily Berber country, Ethiopia, does use cornmeal both in a porridge, Uji,  and in its famous bread, inijera.  So we are taking quite a bit of liberty here, but I think the result is worthwhile.

As for the canned chicken, initially I was a bit skeptical - with the exception of canned fish, most canned meats (e.g. spam) are so high in sodium and fat that the protein content is essentially a loss.  I was pl2g of fat and pleasantly surprised to find that the canned chicken I picked up contained only "white chicken, water, and sea salt" as its ingredients - and had less than 2g of fat and only 8% of a day's sodium - for 12g of protein.  It is frighteningly cartoon-pig-pink when you open the can - but, when treated gently, it was not that different from home-cooked poached chicken meat - it needs the strong flavors here, but works well with them.


1 cup cornmeal
2 cups chicken broth (canned is fine)
1/2 tsp salt
about 2 tbsp butter

1 12 oz can chicken meat, drained (low-salt, if possible - rinsed, if not)
3/4 cups white wine, divided
2 tbsp dried onion flakes
2 tbsp EVOO
1 tbsp sweet paprika
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup jarred salsa of your choice
1/3 cup dried fruit: either raisins or diced stone fruits such as prunes or apricots
1/4 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds (or a mixture)

Pour the cornmeal, salt and the chicken broth into a saucepan over high heat, whisking thoroughly until incorporated.   Continue whisking as you bring the mixture up to a boil - it will thicken rather suddenly. Keep heating and stirring until your mixture is a spreadable texture, then take it off the heat.  Thoroughly butter a large pie tin or tart form.  Once the polenta mixture has cooled somewhat, but is still spreadable, pour it into the tart form and spread it around, creating a side crust by pushing it up the side of the dish.  Dot the polenta with butter and spread it around.  Put your crust in a 450 degree oven while you prepare the filling; it should bake for about 20 minutes.

Mix the onion flakes and 1/4 cup of white wine (you can do this ahead of time and allow it to rehydrate in the refrigerator overnight; if not, put it in the microwave for about 30 seconds and set aside for 5 minutes.)  When flakes are rehydrated, pour EVOO into a skillet, and turn the heat on high.  Saute the onion flakes until the wine has evaporated.  Add the spices and continue stirring until they are fragrant, deglazing with a bit of wine as necessary.  Add the salsa, the remainder of the wine, and the fruit - turn the heat to low and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the crust from the oven and allow to cool a bit (it will be soft, don't worry.)  Drain the chicken (note the odd color?  Don't worry, the paprika makes it all better) and add it to the onion mixture, then gently spread the filling over the piecrust.  Top with a layer of nuts. Bake in the 450 degree oven for 15 minutes, until the nuts are toasted. Nutritional information.

Allow to cool to just above room temperature before serving, or refrigerate to cool thoroughly, and warm lightly before serving (the polenta will firm up as it cools.)  Enjoy!

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