Known as makrouna arbi (Arabic macaroni), this uniquely Tunisian dish is a family favorite. The classic pasta shape is one locally called “fell,” short, smooth tubes similar to Italian mezzi tubetti lisci—which will work well, too. Don’t underestimate the punch of a good harissa. Start with a teaspoon and, toward the end of cooking, taste the sauce and stir in more until just the right level of heat is reached.
- In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and lightly brown on each side. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste and harissa to taste, add the tabil and bay leaf, and season with salt. Cover with 3/4 cup water and bring to a simmer. Add the potatoes, cover the pot, and simmer for 45 minutes or until the potatoes have softened and the chicken is about done.
- Add chickpeas to the sauce. Arrange the green pepper on the top, cover the pot, and cook the sauce for a final 10 minutes. Add in a touch more water if needed or remove the lid to evaporate if the sauce is watery.
- Meanwhile, in a pasta pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and generously salt. When the water returns to a rolling boil, add the pasta. Cook, stirring from time to time to keep the pasta from clumping together, until tender. Drain, but do not rinse. Transfer to a serving bowl.
- Gently remove the chicken, potatoes, and green pepper from the sauce and set aside. Add the sauce to the pasta and toss. Arrange pieces of the reserved chicken, potatoes, and green peppers on the top. Serve.
- Note: Tabil is a dry spice blend of coriander, caraway, and cumin seeds, red pepper flakes, often dried garlic, and sometimes dried onion. For about 2 Tbsp of tabil: 1 1/2 Tbsp coriander seeds, 1/2 Tbsp caraway seeds, 1/2 Tbsp cumin seeds, and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. In a small sauté pan over low heat, dry roast the coriander, caraway, and cumin seeds until warm and aromatic. Transfer to a dish to cool. Grind in a spice grinder along with the red pepper flakes. Stir in a small amount of dried garlic powder and/or dried onions if desired. Store in an airtight container for up to one month.
Jeff Koehler is the Barcelona-based author of six books, including Where the Wild Coffee Grows, the IACP Award-winning Darjeeling, Spain: Recipes and Traditions, and Morocco: A Culinary Journey. Follow him on Instagram @jeff_koehler.