I like to think of a tagine as a sort of stew with attitude. It's really all about the spices and the slow cooking, giving all the wonderful flavours time to develop. What's great is that you don't need an authentic Moroccan tagine in order to recreate this beautiful food - a saucepan will still give you great results. Having been to Marrakesh and learnt all the principles, I now feel I'll be able to rustle up an endless variety of tagines at home. Give this one a try and you'll see what I mean.
To make the spice rub: Mix the ras el hanout, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, paprika, salt, and black pepper together in a small bowl. Put the beef into a large bowl, massage it with the spice rub, then cover with plastic wrap or clingfilm and put into the refrigerator for a couple of hours-ideally overnight. That way the spices really penetrate and flavour the meat. When you're ready to cook, heat a generous lug of olive oil in a tagine or casserole-type pan and fry the meat over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the chopped onion and coriander (cilantro) stalks and fry for another 5 minutes. Tip in the chickpeas and tomatoes, then pour in 1 3/4 cups/400 ml stock and stir. Bring to the boil, then put the lid on the pan or cover with foil and reduce to a simmer for 1 1/2 hours. At this point add your squash, the prunes and the rest of the stock. Give everything a gentle stir, then pop the lid back on the pan and continue cooking for another 1 1/2 hours. Keep an eye on it and add a splash of water if it looks too dry. Once the time is up, take the lid off and check the consistency. If it seems a bit too runny, simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more with the lid off. The beef should be really tender and flaking apart now, so have a taste and season with a pinch or 2 of salt. Scatter the coriander (cilantro) leaves over the tagine along with the toasted almonds, then take it straight to the table with a big bowl of lightly seasoned couscous and dive in.