Spiced Pigeon and Spinach Pie with Apricots

The best pigeons I have ever tasted were cooked simply in a little restaurant on the straight road that leads out of Cairo to the Pyramids. Although they are cheaper than any other game birds, pigeons can still seem a treat. They have a full flavour which goes specially well with spices, ginger and garlic, as in this rather exotic pie.

The plump breasts of the pigeon are more or less the only part you can eat. You can put the carcasses in a large saucepan of water with root vegetables and boil up a delicious game stock to use for a risotto or soup later.

This pie is practical for a dinner party as it can either be kept warm in a low oven or made ahead and reheated. Serve simply with a salad and new potatoes and a bowl of whole-milk yoghurt as a sauce.

Ingredients

  • 6 wood pigeons
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 5 cm/2 in piece fresh ginger
  • 350 g/12 oz red onions
  • 100 g/4 oz dried apricots
  • 1 tablespoon groundnut oil
  • 65 g/27 oz butter
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 rounded teaspoon paprika
  • 450 g/1 lb fresh spinach
  • 1 heaped tablespoon thick-cut marmalade
  • cayenne pepper
  • 400-450 g/14-16 oz filo pastry
  • salt

Method

Using a very sharp knife, slice the breasts off the pigeons and remove the skin. Cut the flesh into thin slices. Peel the garlic and ginger and chop finely. Peel the onions and chop them fairly small. Chop the apricots roughly.

Heat the oil and 15 g/½ oz of the butter in a large, deep frying pan over a medium heat and stir in the chopped garlic and ginger and the spices. Add the sliced pigeon, stir around for a minute to seal and then stir in the onions and apricots. Cover the pan tightly with foil and leave just bubbling over a low heat for 45 minutes-1 hour, until the pigeon is tender to the bite. Stir the mixture now and then, especially towards the end when the juices evaporate — if all the liquid hasn’t evaporated by the time the pigeon is tender, remove the foil and bubble strongly. Meanwhile, wash the spinach and take off the stalks. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and plunge in the spinach leaves for just a minute or so. Drain well, pressing out all the liquid, then chop up small.

When the pigeon is done, remove from the heat and stir in the marmalade and spinach. Season to taste with cayenne pepper and salt and leave until cold.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Gently melt the remaining butter in a saucepan. Brush a deep 17.5-18.5cm/7-7½in loose-based cake tin thinly with butter. Lay in a whole sheet of the filo pastry, press it down in the tin and let the ends hang over the sides.

Brush the pastry in the tin lightly with butter. Now lay another sheet of pastry across the other way so the tin is completely lined. Continue like this in layers, buttering each sheet and letting the pastry hang out all round the edges of the tin. Spoon in the cold pigeon mixture, then bring the overlapping pastry loosely over the top, sheet by sheet, buttering each piece. The top 2 or 3 layers should be crumpled, sticking up towards the centre.

Cook the pie in the centre of the oven for about 30 minutes, until browned. Then put the tin on a narrower round object and push the pie carefully up and out. Using a wide spatula, lever it carefully off the tin base on to an ovenproof serving plate and put it back in the oven for 20-30 minutes.

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