Saffron-scented North African–style chicken tagine is a wonderful stew, perfect for a small group, comforting on a cold night. In Tunisia and Morocco, tagine is both the name of the cooking vessel and the dish. Basically, a deep thick earthenware plate is filled with meat and vegetables or dried fruit. A high conical lid keeps the moisture in, allowing the dish to simmer, sizzle, and bake, on a propane stovetop or over hot coals. The tagine is a clever device, economical in a land where the price of fuel is high and most homes do not have ovens. Similar results can be achieved in an American oven using a wide shallow casserole or gratin dish.
This tagine can be made hours (or a day) before serving, and then is easily reheated. The recipe is easy to alter for other seasons (it’s wonderful with tomatoes in place of pumpkin).
To cook the chickpeas, drain them, put in a saucepan, and cover with 3 quarts of water. Add the onion, cinnamon stick, cloves, a splash of olive oil, and a little salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer gently uncovered, for about an hour, or until the chickpeas are tender. Taste for salt and adjust. Leave the chickpeas to cool in the cooking liquid.
For the tagine, cut the pumpkin or winter squash into thick slices and spread them on a flat surface. Season the slices with salt and pepper.
Season the chicken legs generously with salt and pepper. Massage them with the grated ginger. Sprinkle the cumin seeds over the meat. Set the chicken aside.
Arrange the onions in a shallow earthenware casserole (or two if necessary), then top with the pumpkin slices. Now put chicken legs over the pumpkin in one layer, skin side up. Add 3 to 4 cups of chickpea cooking liquid, barely covering the chicken.
Cover the casserole and
Replace the chicken legs and return the dish to the oven, uncovered. Bake until the juices are bubbling and the chicken legs are lightly browned, about 20 minutes.
Warm the chickpeas in their cooking liquid, then drain and deposit them in a warmed bowl. Swirl in a little butter, the cinnamon, and some chopped parsley.
Serve each diner a chicken leg with some pumpkin and good ladle of broth. Spoon some chickpeas over each serving. Pass a bowl of the spicy harissa oil for drizzling.
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