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Leftover Lessons: "Greek" Lamb with Orzo or Orecchiette

“Greek” Lamb with Orzo
“Greek” Lamb with Oricchiette

Amanda (l.) and Merrill (r.)

Food 52 is a food ‘community’ headed by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs.  Amanda is likely most famous from having edited the Essential New York Times Cookbook, the 2010 revision of the original New York Times Cookbook.  Since she was following in the footsteps of none other than Craig Clairborne, it was some task.  I personally was very pleased to see that Ms. Hesser included the recipe for Monte’s Ham, which first appeared in the Times in 1998.  Food52 has a vibrant on-line recipe share to which bloggers and home cooks from all over contribute.         

Some months ago, I was intrigued by a post for a Lamb dish which topped a bed of lemon-flavored Orzo.  The dish came from a Food52 contributer who signs herself ‘Fiveandspice’ (www.fiveandspice.com).  Along with the recipe came the story of its origins. Fiveandspice’s Mother had seen it in a magazine and incorporated it into her family’s bill of fare.  Since the family was good solid Norwegian stock living in Minnesota, the original “Greek” Lamb with Orzo provided quite a contrast to their usual Norwegian meatballs and fish cakes. I’m not sure my friend Phillip, whose background and cooking is authentically Greek, would attach a Greek flag to the original recipe, but in Minnesota it was positively Pelopponesian. And remained so until Fiveandspice encountered April Bloomfield’s recipe for lamb meatballs in a spicy sauce.  I can always endorse anything Chef Bloomfield does with lamb—see http://www.chewingthefat.us.com/2010/04/visit-to-april-bloomfields-breslin-and.html.  What Fiveandspice did was to revisit her Mother’s recipe incorporating both Chef Bloomfield’s techniques and, I would say, ingredients.  I’d been waiting for the weather to call for heartier dishes and this winter has over delivered on cold, snow, ice and the overwhelming desire to stay indoors until, say, April.  So I set out to make Fiveandspice’s Lamb with Orzo.

1 lb of Lamb becomes dinner for 8 to 10.

As often is the case, family recipes tend to feed multitudes.  This one proudly boasted of making 1 pound of ground lamb serve 8-10 people.  This makes it a very budget conscious selection.  The recipe is padded with ingredients besides the single pound of lamb; 42 ounces of Tomatoes are combined with onions, spinach and then the finished dish is sprinkled with kalamata olives and crumbled Feta Cheese.  This final topping works particularly well in households like mine where one of us never touches an olive and is not all that crazy about Feta.  You just set those to one side and have each individual choose to add them at will.  It’s a very substantial dish and has that particular advantage of using only two pots in its preparation, making clean-up a snap.  As there were just two of us, I had plenty leftover.  Enough to freeze and wait a week until, slammed with yet more snow and cold, we were ready for more warming lamb.        

Longer equals thicker and richer

What was the leftover learning?  In our mad dash to get dinner on the table on a weeknight, aren’t we inclined to reject any recipe that takes longer than the “less than an hour” this one was advertised as taking? In fact, judging from what’s popular on ChewingtheFat and what’s not, 30 minutes is the gold standard for weeknight menus.  That’s really a shame because in this case, and in many others, the extra time results in something far more delicious.  The flavors develop and merge giving us a much denser, meatier stew. The tomato and lamb flavors became less separate and instead combined to make one glorious taste.  But it wasn’t just the lamb part of the equation that improved it was the pasta.        

Orzo, despite its looks, is as much a pasta as spaghetti.  And I duly made it for round 1 of the dish.  But in the leftover round, the weather intervened yet again.  I just couldn’t see dragging myself the three blocks in a blizzard to stock up on Orzo.  Especially not with a pantry full of pasta.  So I opted for Orecchiette, which means “little ears” in Italian because that’s exactly what this thumb sized pasta looks like.  It turned out to be ideal.  Unlike the Orzo which resolutely remained a bed for the lamb, the tiny lemon-y bowls of the Orecchiette soaked up the sauce and delivered even more comfort that the Orzo ever could.  Lessons Learned: 1. Longer cooking yields a more full-bodied stew.  2. Improvise and you may be far more pleased than with slavish devotion to the original instructions.  Here’s the recipe:

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