last year's Florida trip. My friend Sarah and I flew down to Tampa, surprised her sister, Emily, who lives in the area and who took the incredible photograph above, and spent a few days cruising around St. Pete Beach and thereabouts. Back in Washington, there were still 10-foot tall, prison-gray snowbanks lining the streets, so I was grateful to be anywhere but home.
Sarah and I rode bikes from Dunedin to Tarpon Springs, a Greek fishing community and evidently the nation's natural sponge headquarters - who knew? We had a delicious early dinner Mykonos, a restaurant near the piers, where I ordered a baked lamb-and-orzo special. It was so good I would've jumped up and done the hora in its praise, had my legs not been so sore from the first bike ride of the year.
I came home to the chilly air and lingering snow, determined to make a baked lamb-and-orzo special at home. I know you're scoffing, "Lamb? And she calls herself economical." But this impressive dish that serves up to 10 people can be prepared for under $20, easily. Allow me to break it down for you.
Lamb shoulder, like pork shoulder of the previous post, is on the fatty side, so it tends to be a lot cheaper than leg of lamb or lamb chops. I found a big ol' 3-pounder at Shopper's for $15, and according to my mother there are better deals out there (try Costco or Middle Eastern or Indian markets). The other main ingredients in the dish - orzo and canned tomatoes - are cheap, and the rest of the ingredients are likely already in your cabinets or fridge. When the lammy is slow-simmered in a simple tomato sauce, then baked with the orzo, the results are a meaty miracle (4 out of 4 other Owens who tried it, plus 1 out of 1 Sanders, concur on this point).
I poked around the internets for a recipe, and was initially disappointed to find that the nearest version of this dish came not from some wrinkled yaya but from Martha Stewart (adapted from Greek cooking authority Vefa Alexiadou, in case you were worried my recipe is not authentic enough). Some of the steps in Martha's adaptation seemed a bit gratuitous to me, so I cut them out with no ill effects (e.g., she has you cook the lamb and tomatoes in a skillet and the orzo separately in a pot, when all you really need is one Dutch oven to do everything). I also lightened up the amount of butter and olive oil and it's still delicious, so you're welcome. I seem to be lacking eloquence lately - or maybe it's all the time now - so I will conclude simply: OMG DELICIOUS.
Recipe: Lamb and Tomatoes Baked in Orzo
Adapted from Martha Stewart. Makes 8-10 servings, and keeps well for a few days. The leftovers are delicious. Although the cooking time is long, the prep is easy. Sauteed spinach in garlic is the perfect accompaniment.
1/4 C olive oil
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
3 lbs. boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 or 1.5 inch chunks
1 15-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 T red wine vinegar
1/2 t sugar
salt and pepper
1 lb. orzo
2 T butter
chopped rosemary from 2 or 3 sprigs (optional)
2.5 C hot water (more may be necessary)
kefalotiri cheese for sprinkling (unless your name is Pappas, you probably don't have this on hand; use Parmesan instead)
chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add the garlic, and add the lamb in batches, being sure not to overcrowd. Brown the lamb pieces on all sides and remove from the pot, reserving the liquid. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and a hearty dash of salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Add the lamb back to the pot and simmer in the tomato mixture for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350. Turn off the burner and add the orzo, butter, rosemary to the pot, and give it a good stir. Add the water to the pot, give it a stir, and place the pot in the oven. Bake for about an hour, or until orzo is al dente, checking on the pot continuously to make sure the dish doesn't seem too dry - if it does, add about a cup of hot water at a time and stir it around. Remove from oven and stir in cheese and parsley.
(Above photo courtesy of the talented Emily Burnett Magdics. Check out her work!)