Lamb with rice-shaped pasta

This simple, tasty and comforting slow-cooked lamb dish comes from Tessa Kiros's charming book 'Falling Cloudberries'. The title is enough to encourage you to open the book, while the subtitle - "a world of family recipes" - gives a clue to its contents. Inside is a collection of recipes from Tessa's family, the places where they lived and their travels - in Greece, Cyprus, South Africa, Italy, and Finland. Beautifully illustrated and containing delightful family anecdotes, this is a lovely collection of homely recipes.

I bought the book because a friend cooked Cypriot Baked Lamb with Cumin and Oregano, and it was so delicious, I figured the rest of the book must be worth having. Admittedly, I do not use it that often, but, like any cookbook which has become like a good friend to me, I do enjoy browsing its pages, and there are a couple of recipes which have become favourites which I cook regularly.

Youvetsi is a popular Greek lamb dish made with a small, rice-shaped pasta called orzo. You can buy it in Middle Eastern shops, or just use Italian soup pasta, or break up a handful of spaghetti. I use a soup pasta called strellette ("tiny stars" - very pretty when cooked). I once cooked this dish in Turkey, when I was on holiday there a couple of summers ago with a friend who owns a property there. I had to mime the joint I wanted in the butcher, but pointing to my shoulder blade did the trick. The pasta was found in the local corner shop, and I sneaked an extra bag of it into my luggage to bring home with me, together with a kilo of small, pale green sweet peppers which are delicious roasted or fried whole....

You can use a whole joint of meat instead of cubes if you prefer, but it does need to be cooked for a long time to ensure the meat is soft and succulent and falls easily from the bone. You can serve this dish with cubes of feta or haloumi cheese stirred in at the end so that they melt a little. This dish is a real one-pot meal, though I like to serve it with a peppery green salad and lots of fresh coriander.

Serves 4-6

3 tbsp olive oil
800g lamb meat (from shoulder or leg), cubed, or a half-shoulder joint, bone in, of equivalent weight.
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
600g tinned tomatoes, with juice, chopped
1 piece of Cassia bark or cinnamon stick
30g butter
400g orzo or similar small pasta
Salt & pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan, Pecorino, or Kefalotiri cheese to serve

Oven 180C.

If using cubed lamb, heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan or Le Creuset-type casserole, and brown the meat in batches. If using a whole joint, put everything except the pasta in the casserole, and place in the preheated oven for 30 mins to brown off the top of the meat. Reduce the oven to around 150C, cover the casserole and cook for about 2 hours or until the meat falls easily from the bone. Check that the sauce does not dry out - you need some liquid to cook the pasta. About 15 mins before you want to serve the dish, add the pasta, cover the casserole again and cook until the pasta is done. Stir in the feta or haloumi, if using, at this point.

To serve, sprinkle with grated cheese, and fresh coriander (optional).


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