This recipe for Levantine Lamb Pie from ‘The Essential Josceline Dimbleby’ published in 1990 is legendary in our family. My mother was a very good dinner party host and in contrast to her everyday cookery (where she never used recipes) she would always scan the latest cook books to find something unusual and impressive. To the middle class Surreys that were my parent’s guests, this dish must have seemed rather exotic with its mix of sweet and spicy Middle Eastern ingredients.
I’m not sure how many times she actually cooked this dish (I have a feeling that it may even have only been once) but it is fondly remembered by my father as one of her best. As a child I remember it looking so intriguing and I was desperate for there to be leftovers for me but there were never any. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I decided to see what all the fuss was about and cook it for myself. I don’t know how authentic it is, working with filo pastry is a bit faffy, and I always struggle to get lamb neck at a reasonable price, but I absolutely love it. The flavours are just wonderful.
Bizarrely, I cooked this last night for just the two of us – mainly because we had some filo from a freezer disaster that needed eating up. If you were entertaining you could either serve it as a main course bulked out with some cous cous or rice or as a starter cut into smaller slices with salad.
Josceline Dimbleby’s Levantine Lamb Pie
- 500g spinach
- 750g-875g lamb neck fillet
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 100g butter
- 2-3 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 375g onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 125g sultanas
- 1 heaped tablespoon thick cut marmalade
- 250g read- made filo pastry
- Black pepper
Wash the spinach and drain. Place the spinach in a large pan and steam it in the residues of water left over from washing by cooking on a low heat with the lid on for 5 minutes. Press the spinach against the side of the pan to squeeze out any liquid and drain. Then chop up finely.
Cut up the lamb into very small cubes, trimming off any excess fat. Heat the oil and 15g of the butter in a large frying pan. Stir in the chopped garlic and spices. Add the meat and stir over a high heat until sealed. Then stir in the onion and sultanas.
Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and cook on a low heat for about an hour until the meat is tender, giving it a good stir periodically. If the liquid hasn’t evaporated after this time then raise the heat and stir until it has.
Remove the pan from the heat, season well with salt and pepper, add the marmalade and the spinach and stir to combine. Leave until completely cool.
Preheat the oven to 170oC fan.
Melt the remaining butter in the microwave or in a saucepan.
Brush a loose-based 18-19 cm diameter, deep cake tin thinly with butter. Lay in a whole sheet of filo pastry, press it down in the tin and let the sides hang over the edge. Brush the pastry with butter and then lay the next sheet across the other way. Keep building up the layers buttering in between and letting the sheets hang over the edge until the whole pack and all the butter is used up. Filo pastry is very thin and breaks easily but don’t worry too much if this happens the cracks just add to golden crumpled look of the dish.
Spoon in the cold lamb mixture and then bring in the overhanging pastry over the top buttering each piece. The last few layers should be left crumbled on top and sticking up towards the centre.
Cook in the oven for 30 minutes until the top is golden brown. Remove the pie from the tin and place on an oven proof serving plate before putting it back in the oven for another 20-30 minutes. When removing the pie from the tin it is best to use a large spatula to lever it off the base.
You can make the pie in advance and keep it warm in a low oven for up to an hour before serving.
PS. I apologise that the photos are rubbish – they really don’t do the pie justice. My husband was impatient and hungry to eat – he’s been complaining that since I’ve started this blog his dinners are a few degrees colder.