A Cypriot-inspired dish known as Yiouvetsi or lamb with orzo casserole.
We can safely say we’re into autumn now in England, which means it’s time for me to start dreaming of sunnier climes, longing for a winter break. Next on my bucket-list of places to visit is Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean separated into two distinct regions, the Greek south and the Turkish north, with the capital Nicosia sitting between the two. My brother was based in Cyprus for a time and my very first room-mate when I moved to university in London was a girl called Marianne, who lived in Nicosia. Although we were strangers then, we found common ground, which was that we were both being incredibly homesick. We soon realised that the best way of keeping our spirits high, particularly when budgets were low, was to take it in turns to cook dishes for one another that reminded us from home. For myself, the dish was usually my mother’s chicken soup and for Marianne, a pasta/pilaf dish with tomato sauce known as Yiouvetsi made with orzo (rice-shaped pasta) or, at the Greek deli, look for Kritharaki. In the years since leaving university, and sadly losing contact with Marianne, I’ve made this dish many times, often beginning the process with gently-cooked lamb shoulder or neck fillet pieces or chicken thighs for a more substantial ‘one-pot’ meal. Yiouvetsi means casserole and this dish is usually baked in the oven in a clay-pot, although I’ve included the method for a stove-top version here. As the colder weather sets in here, I urge you to try it. I usually top my finished dish with plenty of crumbled Cypriot feta and chopped fresh mint for an extra hint of colour and flavour.
- Greek olive oil
- 2 white onions
- 500g organic diced shoulder of lamb (or neck fillet or chicken)
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 400g tomato passata
- 800ml water or fresh vegetable or chicken stock
- 500g orzo rice-shaped pasta or Kritharaki pasta
- 200g feta cheese
- A few spring fresh mint
- Take a large casserole dish (with a fitting lid) and heat 2-3 tablespoon of Greek olive oil in the pan. Add the onion to the pan and cook on a low heat for five to seven minutes, until the onions have softened.
- Turn up the heat to high and tip in the diced lamb or chicken. Cook the mean until it has started to brown all over, stirring occasionally, for around five to seven minutes. Add the cinnamon stick and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Add the tomato passata and simmer the meat for around twenty minutes with the lid on.
- In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4 (if you want to bake the dish in the oven). Make up 500ml of stock with hot water.
- Remove the cinnamon sticks from the tomato sauce and add the uncooked orzo pasta to the meat in the pan and stir well. Pour over the stock.
- At this point, you can transfer the whole casserole to a the oven for forty minutes (uncovered) or cook the casserole on the stove with a fitted lid for fifteen to twenty minutes, or until the pasta is cooked – the pasta should absorb all of the liquid but check to make sure it is not too dry.
- If you have baked the pasta in the oven, the top should form a crust-like layer.
- Once cooked, you can carefully transfer the casserole to a large serving dish, or serve it as it in the casserole pan.
- Crumble over the Cypriot feta cheese, sprinkle over some chopped fresh mint and serve.
I hope this dish warms you up, or perhaps brings back some memories of a dish you’ve tried on holiday? For more Cypriot-inspired dishes take a look here.