Tagine – ‘meaning stew, is a category of dish fundamental to cookery in Morocco. The same word appears in the name of the special earthenware cooking recipient – Tagine Slaoui – with a distinctive pointed cover in which it is cooked’.

The Oxford Companion to Food. (1999) Alan Davidson.

El Moro is Spanish for Moor, and for some 700 years from the 8th to the 15th centuries, the Moors colonized the entire Iberian peninsula. It was during the 10th and 11th centuries  that their occupation heralded a pre-Renaissance ‘Golden Age’, and its capital, Córdoba, became the epicenter of European mathematic, artistic, philosophic and scientific thought. They even provided us with the numbers that adorn our clock faces today.

Islamic rule also established a profound gastronomic legacy that spread throughout the West and undoubtedly contributed to what today we call the ‘Mediterranean Diet’. They introduced Rice, Olives, Sugar, Apricots, Saffron, Almonds, Carrots and Grapefruit, along with herbs – Mint and Coriander, and spices – such as Cinnamon, Cumin, Anise and Nutmeg. They also provided vinegar for preservation and – surprisingly given their proclivity for abstinence – distilled alcohol. Here I must give the Moors my personal plug, for without their distillation skills we would have no sherry. And if we had no sherry, we would not have the unique range of Spanish wine styles that include both the driest and sweetest in the world. Think of those North African conquerors next time a septuagenarian aunt passes you a schooner of Amontillado.

They also introduced the idea of using sweet fruit, dried or fresh, in their highly seasoned savoury dishes.

Make no mistake about it. Without the important influence of the Moors throughout Spain, we would not be cooking and eating much of the Spanish food that is considered to be so typical of the country today.” La Cocina Mediterránea Tradicional (2001) Luis Benavides Barajas

Sam and Samantha Clark opened their restaurant Moro, in the Clerkenwell district of London in 1997. The inspiration for their food ranged along our saffron-cinnamon axis, from Andalucían Spain to the Muslim Mediterranean. Their food proclaims its origins, be it from Turkey, Andalucía, Syria or Morocco, and the authenticity of techniques and ingredients radiate from their four cookbooks. The following recipe is a classic Moroccan tagine that has migrated around the Mediterranean.

Beef Tagine with Prunes from Casa MoroThe Second Cookbook (2004) Sam and Sam Clark

Serves 4

40g unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

1tsp ground ginger

2 tsp cinnamon

3 tbsp finely grated onion

4 tbsp roughly chopped, fresh coriander

1.2 kg stewing beef

40 threads of saffron, infused in 2 tbsp boiling water

400g stoned prunes, soaked I water

2 tbsp runny honey

Sea salt and black pepper

1 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly roasted

180g whole blanched almonds, fried in olive oil until just golden

4 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, chopped

Put the butter and oil in a large saucepan or heatproof tagine over a medium heat, and when the butter starts to foam add the ginger, ½ tsp black pepper, the cinnamon, onion and coriander

Fry for 30 seconds, then add the beef and stir well for a minute or two so it is coated in the spice mixture

Cover the meat with water and saffron infusion, bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer

Add half the prunes and cook for 1½ hours until the meat just begins to become tender and juicy

Add the remaining prunes along with honey and some salt and pepper

Simmer for a further 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender and the liquid has thickened and reduced

Serve with sesame seeds, almonds and coriander leaves sprinkled over the top

Wine thoughts

Ubiquitous as it clearly has become, Rioja, along with French and Italian ‘plonks’, sustained many of us through those impecunious years propping up student bars. These were angular, rustic wines that were sluiced down in college dorms alongside baked spuds, carry-out pizzas, burgers and assorted kebabs. The Spanish have always revered their principal red grape variety, Tempranillo, and when it is carefully tended on limestone hills alongside the River Ebro, suitably crafted in the wineries and cosseted for several years in sweet American oak barrels, the resultant Rioja Reservas and Gran Reservas provide less confrontational, more harmonious reds. They both carry a soft, oaky sheen that will offer a native partnership to the sweet notes of our beef tagine.