A Fragrant Quince Supper

Stuffed quince is one of my favourite autumn treats, so when I saw a box of them glowing from the window of the greengrocers I knew just what to do. With the late summer, I hadn't even realised quince season was here - sparing me the usual long wait as the weather turns and I anticipate their sherbet scented arrival. 

If you've never come across a quince, they look a little like a large, knobbly, golden pear. Covered with a downy fluff, they may appear slightly misshapen and unappetising - why not just eat a pear? It's only when you get close enough to inhale that sherbet, lemon flower scent that you get a sense of what quinces are all about. They are too tough and tart to eat as a fruit, but when you cook them slowly in a buttery saffron scented broth, some kind of magic happens and they become yielding, whilst still retaining the freshness of that incredible quince scent. 

I will also be making Quince Brandy to savour after dinner and Membrillo (quince paste) for all those lovely winter pork dishes or just to nibble at with a piece of Sharpham sheep's cheese.

Dolmeh e Beh (or stuffed quince) is a Persian recipe in which you slow cook the spicy lamb stuffed quinces in a little broth scented with saffron - salivating yet? Sharp, fruity quince is the perfect compliment to savoury cinnamon infused lamb. It is rich, so you may just want one quince between two people. I serve it with some steamed rainbow chard or kale (or other fresh deep green) and a small mound of rice cooked with sharp barberries or a flatbread to mop up the savoury juices with. Pomegranate seeds or chopped pistachios are a beautiful garnish scattered over the top.

Persian Stuffed Quinces – Dolmeh e Beh (serves 4-8)

4 Quinces
350g Lamb Mince
2 Medium Onions
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Tomato Paste (make sure it is sugar free for SCD)
Juice of one Lemon
2 dtsp Brown sugar (or 4tsp honey for SCD)
2 dtsp Butter
Bunch Flat Leaf Parsley
250ml Water
2 Pinches Saffron Threads
Turkish Chilli Flakes - Pul Biber (or regular chilli)

Preheat the oven to 170 C / mark 3 / 325 F
Put the lamb in a hot pan and cook without any extra fat, stirring until the meat is starting to sizzle and brown and the fat is running out of it. Set the meat aside, leaving the fat in the pan.

Chop the onions finely and sauté them gently in the lamb fat with a pinch of salt, till soft and pale gold. 

Grind the saffron with a teaspoon of the sugar and a pinch of salt and set aside. Wash and chop the parsley roughly.

When the onions are golden add lamb and cook for a couple minutes more on a higher heat, don't let the onions burn - they should start to smell sweet. Sprinkle in the turmeric and stir for another minute to cook off the bitterness.

Add tomato paste, two teaspoons of the lemon juice, cinnamon, half the parsley, a good twist of black pepper and a couple of pinches of Turkish chilli flakes (one pinch of regular chilli flakes). Fry gently for another few minutes until the tomato smells sweet – add a little water if it seems really dry and starts to stick. Off the heat stir in the rest of the parsley and set aside.

Cut off the top of each quince to make a lid and hollow out the core and a little of the flesh with a teaspoon – the flesh is tough, but you can do it! Trim the bottom of the quinces if they do not stand up easily. Fill the cavities with the lamb mixture, mounding it up a little, and squidge the lids on top. Place them in a deep sided enamel or earthenware dish with a close fitting lid. Something not much bigger than the quinces is ideal. You could use an ovenproof saucepan with a lid as an alternative.

Add the water, brown sugar and lemon juice to the ground saffron and stir to dissolve. Pour it over the waiting quinces and add the butter to the pan in a few knobs. Cover tightly with the lid, or a double layer of foil and bake in the oven for 1 ½ hours, basting with the juices twice during cooking. Serve with the golden juices drizzled over, some dark greens and a small mound of rice or flatbread.

You can cook it in advance and keep for up to 48 hours before reheating throughly.