Late May and June can hold some melancholy weeks for international teachers. Our life overseas is very closely related to working/living at a summer camp. We come in together with a particular group of teachers and maintain a social support net for one another as we learn the ropes of working at our new school and living in our new country. Your cohort or class is a group of colleagues that remains significant to you no matter how many other friends you have on staff. The first of our cohort is leaving in June and we had a Sunday afternoon garden dinner together with our group.
Even though my husband is the director of the school, we were as green as everyone else when we all flew in to start our new lives here. Allan and I had actually been here a few days when the others arrived and we knew that they would be very challenged to even feed themselves for a few days so we started what I think will be a tradition for us which is having all of the new arrivees to our house to dinner the first night they’ve landed in the country. They are usually booked to arrive over just a couple of days, but once they get dropped off at their new house and have a nap and a shower, it’s kind of nice to come over to a meal and a chance to start getting to know their new colleagues. That first year, when we didn’t have our shipment yet, we had to host “bring your own plate” parties because we were each issued only replacement level numbers of plates in our houses. Only one of the smart implementations Allan has made in the two years he has been director of this school is to issue new teachers a few extra plates.
Our friend, Karen, who is leaving, has invested herself in Tunisia, travelling all over the country. In her honor, I selected a main dish that reflects the ingredients and techniques of deep Tunisia. This is a recipe from the island of Djerba. The story goes that this dish is cooked in an amphora-shaped, unglazed, terracotta pot called a gargoulette which can be stuffed with fish or meat, saffron, herbs, olive oil, and vegetables and then left in the embers that warm the water at a traditional bathhouse to cook slowly while the women bathe. Following this session, the cook brings the pot home where her husband breaks off the top and she pours the contents into a serving bowl. It’s almost a Tunisian TV dinner.
Cooking the food in a clay pot imparts a particular flavor and clayware being so cheap in Djerba, the pot is merely crushed and returned to the ground. I used a method of sealing the pot with bread dough which was interesting, but frankly, I could have used super glue which would have been easier to remove.
- 1 1/2 pounds bone-in shoulder of lamb, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 12 chunks
- 1 small onion, finely chopped, plus 2 tablespoons chopped onion
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
- 1 large sprig of rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Pinch of saffron threads
- 1 medium tomato
- 1 small green or red bell pepper
- 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Flour, water, and oil ribbon for sealing the clay pot
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Rinse the meat; drain and mix with the small onion, garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and a good pinch of saffron. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 5 or 6 hours.
2. Core the tomato, cut in half crosswise, and gently squeeze out the seeds. Slice the tomato. Core, seed, and thinly slice the bell pepper. Peel and halve the potatoes. Mix the vegetables with the olive oil and the marinated meat. Pack into a 3-quart clay pot and mix well. Cover with foil. Seal with a ribbon of dough made with flour mixed with water and a drop of oil and set the lid on top. Place in a cold oven, turn the temperature to 450 degrees F. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven and leave to continue baking for 30 minutes.
3. Pour the ingredients into a deep serving plate and correct the seasoning. Sprinkle the lemon juice, chopped onion, and parsley on top and serve.
Recipe from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert