Youvetsi

Lamb & Tomato with Rice-Shaped Noodles

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Some people like to serve this with cubes of feta or haloumi stirred in at the end so that they melt a bit. Risoni or orzo pasta is like a large grain of rice and you can use any small noodle instead, although the cooking time will probably vary. If you prefer, use one big piece of meat on the bone instead of cubes, and just break it up into portions for serving. The meat must be very soft, so cook it as long as it needs before adding the pasta to the casserole for the last 15 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 800 g (1 lb 12 oz) lamb meat (from shoulder or leg), trimmed and cut into 3 cm (1¼ inch) pieces
  • 2 red onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 600 g (1 lb 5 oz) tinned tomatoes with juice, chopped
  • 1 piece of cassia bark or cinnamon
  • 30 g (1 oz) butter
  • 400 g (14 oz) risoni or orzo
  • grated parmesan, pecorino or kefalotiri cheese, to serve

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Heat the olive oil in a heavy casserole and fry the lamb in batches until golden on all sides. Transfer the meat to a plate and add the onions to the casserole. Sauté the onions until golden and softened, stirring all the time so they don’t stick (you can add another drop of oil). Add the garlic and cook for another half a minute or so before returning the meat to the pan. Add the tomatoes, crushing them with a wooden spoon, season with salt and pepper and add the cassia or cinnamon and the butter. Let it all bubble up for 5 minutes or so and then add 1 litre (4 cups) hot water. Cover and bake for 1 hour or until the lamb is tender.

Rinse the pasta in a fine sieve or colander, drain and add to the casserole. Mix through, cover and return it to the oven for another 15 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked and has absorbed most of the sauce. The cooking time will depend on the pasta — it takes longer to cook in the oven, so pasta that needs 7 minutes on the stovetop will take 15 minutes in the oven. You may need to add a little more hot water if it seems too dry. Serve hot, sprinkled with the grated cheese.

If you are not serving this immediately, remove the casserole from the oven before the pasta is completely cooked — the residual heat in the casserole dish will finish off the cooking.