Youvetsi: Baked Lamb with Pasta in Tomato Sauce

Adapted from The Foods of the Greek Islands.

This is the basic recipe for the very popular meat and pasta dish. You can prepare it with beef –I very often make it with the local, beef-like, veal shank on Kea (pictured here) but also with free range, gamy chicken (see variations).

Although I think that orzo-pasta works best, you can also find the dish made with hilopites (the small squares, or the flat, ribbon-like traditional pasta).

Makes 8 servings      

1           cup olive oil

Juice of 2 lemons

2           tablespoons dried savory, crumbled

3/4      cup sliced garlic cloves (about 2 heads)

8           lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2      cup extra-virgin olive oil

3           large onions, diced

1           tablespoon dried savory, crumbled

1/2      teaspoon Aleppo pepper or pinch crushed red pepper flakes

4           cups dry red wine

1           32-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained

1 1/2    quarts Chicken Stock or more if needed

3           bay leaves

2           cinnamon sticks

1           pound orzo, cooked in plenty of boiling salted water for 2 min. and drained

2           tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley  (optional)

1/2      cup coarsely grated hard myzithra, kefalotyri, pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.


The day before you plan to serve the lamb, combine the oil, lemon juice, savory and garlic in a large bowl. Add the lamb shanks and stir to coat. Transfer the lamb and marinade to large zipperlock bags, press to force out the air and seal. Refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (200 C).

Remove the lamb from the marinade and set aside. Strain the marinade, discard the liquid, then chop the garlic. Season the lamb well with salt and pepper. Place a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and, when it is hot, add 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add the lamb, 2 or 3 shanks at a time, and brown well on all sides, about 15 minutes. Set the lamb aside.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1/4 cup oil. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the savory and pepper or pepper flakes. Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the skillet to release the browned bits, and cook until reduced by half. Return the lamb to the Dutch oven and boil over medium heat, until the liquid is again reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, crushing them between your fingers, the stock, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks, stir and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.

(You can prepare the meat to this point 1 or 2 days in advance; cool, cover and refrigerate. Bring the liquid to a boil before proceeding.)

Cover the Dutch oven, or transfer the lamb to a deep baking dish with a cover, place in the oven and bake for 2 1/2 hours, or until the lamb is tender. Transfer the meat to a platter. Add the orzo to the pan and stir to coat with the cooking juices. If the pan seems a little dry, add about 1/4 cup stock. Bake, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Place the lamb on top of the orzo and bake for another 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and discard the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. Serve immediately on heated plates, placing a few tablespoons of orzo on each plate and setting a lamb shank on top. Drizzle with the cooking juices and sprinkle with the parsley (if using) and cheese.

VARIATIONS: For BEEF Youvetsi substitute 4 1/2 pounds beef shank for the lamb, and cut into thick serving portions. Marinate, brown and cook as described above. To make CHICKEN Youvetsi you will need to get really free-range, old fashioned, aged chicken, rooster or capon that has dense flesh. Cut into serving portions, marinate, brown and cook in the oven, but check to see if maybe it is done after 1 1/2 hours, then proceed as described above.





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