Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Baked Lamb & Orzo Nooodles | Yiouvetsi


I had a hard time adjusting to college the first couple months. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy my newfound independence or my ability to eat cereal for dinner and stay up until two in the morning marathoning Friends, it was that southern California was so incredibly and uniquely different than what I was used to at home in Oregon, and I hadn't prepared myself for it at all. The scenery, the culture, the style; it all came at me like a tidal wave, full of things I didn't know and things I didn't fit in with. Back home, I was used to gray skies, wet sidewalks, the most vibrant of greens, layers upon layers of fleece and wool clothing, and the fact that I could drive 10 miles in almost any direction and hit a farm. I unknowingly took comfort in every one of those things while I was home, not really comprehending that leaving Oregon meant leaving all of that behind, too.


I'm an outgoing person so I made friends quickly, but I couldn't shake the homesickness that the bright, shining sun brought every morning as it bore its way through the shades of my dorm room window. (The sun. A constant reminder of how very far I was from home.) There was a fairly random random four-day weekend in October entitled "Fall Break", and with no large projects looming right afterwards I was able to convince my parents to let me come home for the short period of time, even though I'd be flying back up in a month's time for Thanksgiving. Soaring over the city before landing, I recognized the intense shades of red, orange, and yellow covering the earth below as autumn, something I took for granted growing up. I'd been mystified when September came and went and the trees on campus stayed the same muted green they were in August. But here I was back home, where everything was right again, where everything was as it should be. My parents waiting at the gate to take me home, the traffic-free drive back to Hillsboro, the gentle and constant falling of rain. And the warm, comforting smell that greeted me when they opened the front door.


My mother had made yiovetsi earlier that day. It's one of the simplest dishes in Greek cooking, made from stewed lamb, onions, and tomatoes that are mixed with orzo noodles and then baked until a light crispness forms over the exposed layer of the dish. The lamb, onions, and tomatoes simmer together for about 2 hours, creating a wildly delicious broth with incredibly concentrated notes of lamb and the sweet-yet-savory flavor that results from slow-cooked tomatoes and onions. When you mix the pasta into this base and then bake it briefly, the noodles readily absorb the liquid from the pan and the top becomes firm while the insides remain soft and saucy. The only two seasonings used in this dish are salt and pepper, and that's because they're the only seasonings the dish needs.


I'd always liked yiouvetsi, but never thought of it as particularly wonderful or striking up until that day. My parents had a restaurant, so everything we ate growing up was equally good. But I came to realize that, like many things, I had taken poor yiouvetsi for granted. After months of eating processed cafeteria food covered in grease and preservatives with no other meal plan options, every ounce of my body was pushing me towards that kitchen. And when I rushed in, there it was waiting for me. As orange and tomatoey as ever. Sitting there, eating it, felt like what I can only describe as a warm and comforting hug. That first bite of yiouvetsi is, 'till this very day, the best thing I have eaten in my entire life. It tasted like coming home.


After that break, things got a bit easier. I found a Greek deli in Los Angeles and was able to start making some food in my dorm room. I grew used to, and even began to enjoy, the intense sunlight. And even now in my current neighborhood, we do get a small dose of fall leaves falling. Sure they don't turn the vibrant colors of a northwest autumn, and stay rather muddled shades of yellow and brown, but they're still beautiful in their own way. And now, I don't take things for granted anymore. Every tomato from my garden, every hug from my Mom, every comment from one of you; I cherish these things because I know what it is to realize that you haven't when you wish you would have. Food has taught me many things, and that, I think, is the most important one.



Ingredients:


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 lbs lamb shoulder or chops, cut into 1 to 2 inch cubes
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons pepper
1 cup water
3 large tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 and 1/2 cups orzo noodles
finely grated Parmezan or mizithra cheese


Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the lamb, salt, and pepper and brown the meat on all sides for about 5 minutes. Add the onions and allow to cook for another 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to cook the lamb evenly. Add the water, tomatoes, and tomato paste and stir until the tomato paste has dissolved into the liquid. Bring the heat down to it's lowest setting and allow it to simmer, uncovered for 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes.


During the last 30 minutes of cooking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring about 5 cups of water to a boil in a medium-sized pot and add the orzo noodles. Boil them until they're nearly done, about 10 minutes, stirring every couple minutes to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Drain them and rinse quickly with cold water to keep them from cooking further.


Empty the noodles into a roughly 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Remove the lamb mixture from the stovetop and empty it into the casserole dish, then stir it up until the lab mixture is evenly distributed throughout the orzo noodles. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove it from the oven and serve alongside the Parmesan or mizithra cheese for sprinkling.





18 comments:

  1. This is perfect for a weeknight dinner! Also, I'm never really sure how to prepare orzo as adding sauce to it makes the consistency a bit strange, so I'm enjoying this recipe quite a bit to stir up some inspiration.

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    1. Thanks Supal! Orzo is great, I really only ever see it used in pasta salads, but it has so much more possibilities for use than that. A really great little noodle :)

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  2. Looks absolutely delicious to me. I'm going to give it a try soon.

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    1. Thank you so much!! Let me know how it turns out for you when you do :)

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  3. I love giouvetsi. I am Greek (from Athens) and this is one of my favorite dishes. It is not only made with lamb but with any kind of meat available, mostly veal or even goat, and the simplicity, as you very well mention, is what it's so beautiful about it. I always make it in the oven, which is the most traditional way of cooking it but on the stovetop is delicious as well. And yes! Mizithra is the way to go as far as cheese is concerned. Love your photos, Eva.

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    1. That is so interesting, I would LOVE to make it with veal, I can only imagine how delicious that would taste. And I couldn't agree more with you about the simplicity, it really presents each of the flavors in the purest, most well-repared way possible so that they combine to create this wonderful melange of tastes. Mizithra is the best!!! I love it's acidity, my go-to pairing for any tomato-based pasta sauce. And thank you so much for your kind words about my photos :) I am so happy you enjoy them!!

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  4. This sounds like one of those dishes that turns out to be so much more than the sum of its parts. Succulent lamb and juicy, flavorful onion and tomato? Yes please. I absolutely have to try it!

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    1. TOTALLY. They really come together in the best, most flavorful way possible. You will love it!

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  5. Eva! This is such a beautiful story! I felt like I was right there with you as I read it. Homesickness for me has always been about the people and less the places and experiences, since I've always lived at the same latitude. When I think about living somewhere with completely different weather patterns, I get a bit nervous. That's a big change! But you always have your family (and their cooking!) to come home to. This dish sounds so comforting and it has all things that I love.

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    1. Thank you Brianne!! :D It was a crazy time, and feels so long ago even though it hasn't even been 10 years yet. But yeah, even though I stayed on the west coast it was a HUGE culture shock and took some time getting used to. And even now there's still nothing quite like my visits home :) You guys would really like this, it is really hard to describe just how ridiculously good it is, even with such simple ingredients. There's just something kind of magical about it (and it's not just my emotions saying that part haha).

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  6. I love your photos! They are gorgeous!! This looks so delicious. The simplest meals make the best ones. Pinned to make. :)
    Tina at www.tinaschic.com

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  7. Beautiful recipe and pictures as always, Eva. I also completely identify with what you said about adjusting to college. It was hard for me too, emotionally and physically (because of the disgusting cafeteria food!) but it made a huge difference when I started to cook for myself and discover the foodie scene in the city. I just made this for my mum last night and she loved it!

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  8. Hello, Eva! I've been living in Greece for many years and I love yiouvetsi - I usually make the version with chicken and cinnamon though. The only thing is that I resorted to cooking it all on the stove-top, as I found it easier that way, but of course you miss out on the lovely crispy top if you do that. I might follow this recipe some time and give the oven-baked version another go!

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  9. great story and great dish--i can see how one would find this completely comforting. :)

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  10. As I was reading how homesick you felt all I wanted to do was give you a big cuddle! I have a bag of orzo that I'm never quite sure what to do with, and this looks like it would be fun to try.

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  11. Your photos are always so beautiful Eva The way you capture light but still present your dishes with dark overtones blows me away. I would love to try this with beef. I saw someone mentioned veal. Your opinion would be appreciated. I also loved your story of homesickness and appreciating things that we normally take for granted. Lovely post all together.

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  12. I made it this weekend and it was soooo delicious! I used chops and the meat was so tender and tasty! For cheese I used pecorino and it went very well with it. Even my friend in Greece (who runs a tavern on the beautiful island of Kefalonia) was impressed by the pictures I sent her! Only when she saw it on the stove-top she wa sa bit alarmed "but it is cooked in the oven!" - I assured her "of course!" ;-) Your recipe brought back lovely memories of summer in Greece! Thank you!

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