About a year ago I went to visit my friend B who was living in Athens at the time. The November mornings were already cool but the midday sun was still seductively warm and we explored everywhere on foot. One morning we ambled around the sprawling Monastiraki flea market, ogling at forgotten treasures and curiosities, and when our feet were tired we stopped off for an enormous bowl of horiatiki – Greek salad – and a slab of sticky honey cake in a peaceful, shaded courtyard away from the throngs of tourists. Another day, B took me on a wonderful foodie walking tour of the city – to hidden artisanal shops selling sacks of spices and hanging dried herbs, handmade pasta and cured meats, breakfast biscuits, local honey and great vats of olives every which way.
I bought some orzo and a jar of honey, and squirrelled them away in my luggage. Something to remember the trip by. And I knew the exact moment I bought the orzo its exquisite and inevitable fate: cinnamon lamb stew. A beautifully mellow stew, full of slow-cooked melt-in-your-mouth lamb nuggets, and kissed with earthy cinnamon sweetness. The orzo cooks in the stew, just as rice does in a risotto, absorbing all the delicious flavours into its very core. A year on and I’m ready to share this baby – boys go mad for it.
Stews were made for winters and Sunday afternoons playing board games, slippers and cosy socks. So don’t wish spring upon us just yet – let’s revel in winter and the heartiness of its food a moment longer.
Cinnnamon lamb with orzo
Serves 3-4 (i.e. supper for 2 with lots of awesome leftovers)
– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 onion, diced
– 2 cloves garlic, crushed
– 2 teaspoons cinnamon
– 1 cinnamon stick
– 2 bay leaves
– 500g lamb leg, cut into approx. 1 inch cubes
– 1 tin chopped tomatoes
– 500ml chicken stock
– 250g orzo
– small bunch fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Heat the oil in a deep ovenproof pan on a medium heat and sweat the onions for 5-10 minutes until they’re starting to turn soft and translucent, being careful not to brown them. Add the garlic, cinnamon (powder and stick) and bay leaves and cook for another minute or two.
Turn up the heat and brown the lamb. Tip: Make sure the heat is high enough to seal the lamb – it should only take a few minutes. If the heat’s too low, all the juices will run out and your lamb might end up on the dry side.
Add a pinch of salt, a few grinds of black pepper, the tomatoes and stock, give it all a good stir and put the lid on. Bring to the boil and then transfer to the oven for 2 hours.
Chop the parsley, retaining the stalks.
After 2 hours, stir in the orzo (and any chopped parsley stalks) and finish cooking on the hob, on a medium heat, for about 10 minutes, stirring here and there – until the orzo is cooked through. Tip: It is also a good idea to check the liquid after 2 hours – if it’s getting dry, add a splash of water, particularly as the orzo will absorb moisture as it cooks.
Serve topped with parsley. Tip: Don’t forget to remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves before serving!
Source: Recipe and photos by pip & little blue.