Moroccan pastilla filled with shredded duck meat, caramelised onions and red peppers, the outer crisp filo layers dusted lightly with cinnamon and icing sugar.
Pastilla is a North African pie made with filo, warka or brik pastry, with meat filling, usually poultry. It is generally considered to be a Moroccan specialty but actually is probably of Spanish provenience, having migrated to Morocco with the Moorish cooks leaving Andalusia after ten centuries of rule.
Traditional Moroccan pastilla
It should be a lavish preparation, with the meat freshly cooked specially for the purpose of encasing it in pastry and making a centrepiece of a banquet, or an entrée served at a wedding. But I always make it with leftover roast meat, and it’s the anticipated leftover feast.
I actually think the pastilla made with remnants of the roast duck or chicken beats the original roast, and I get anxious if it looks like the roast is going to be devoured without leaving much over. No! I want to yell. No more, don’t have another slice and DON’T TOUCH THOSE DRUMSTICKS!
Perhaps after all it is a good idea to prepare the pastilla from scratch and cook the meat with that intention instead of hovering like a vulture over diners, trying to snatch and save chunks of the roast for later. Confit duck legs would work gorgeously, I'm guessing.
That’s chalked up for the next time. For now, it will be discussed still as a wonderful way to use leftovers.
Dinner dusted with sugar?
If you squeam at the thought of putting sugar over your main course, you need to learn to be more open minded. There is nothing wrong with seasoning a meat pie, especially poultry-based, with a little sweetness.
The traditional Moroccan variants of pastilla are very cleverly distinguishing between the poultry type which gets sprinkled with cinnamon, almonds and powdered sugar like it was a cake, and the seafood type which is spicily seasoned and topped with lemon slices. It all makes sense: you wouldn’t sweeten fish or shrimp.
Perfect leftover duck recipe
I use duck here, or the remnants thereof that I managed to retrieve from my hungry family. They did abide, cajoled with the promise of pastilla on the following day.
Preparing the duck mixture is a breeze: depending on the quantity you have at your disposal, add more onions and peppers. I also like to mix some plant food in, in order to make the dish lighter.
The onions and peppers should be gently sweated until really soft and jammy, with the fragrant spices of cinnamon, Baharat and coriander. Then the duck meat, shredded or chopped goes in and cooks together some more – it does not need to soften but to infuse with the flavours.
Berries, cran- or barberries are optional but I can never resist adding them in for some internal sweetness in the filling.
Baharat is a blend of spices and its content varies depending on the region. In my view the closest mix to substitute the original will be equal parts of smoked paprika, ground cumin and cinnamon/nutmeg/cardamom. Alternatively use ras el hanout if it is more available in your locality.
How to handle filo pastry
Quickly and briskly, that’s how; although it is reasonably resilient and does not quite dry out as you watch. It’s good to work with one sheet at a time and once it is brushed with butter (or olive oil), it gains some immunity from dryness so you can relax.
Pastilla or pastillas
Make individual pastries, like hand pies, if you like. But there’s an awesomness about turning out the whole pie onto a plate, showering it in sugar and spice and cutting wedges while shards of crunchy filo spray out from the knife.
You can then grab your wedge and eat it with your fingers, by all means – in fact that’s how pastilla should traditionally be tackled.
I have made both individual pastries and one huge pie and another argument for the latter is: you get more filling. Bravely salvaged from the dinner the day before.