As I'm sure my nearest and dearest, and especially Andy, would tell you, I am incredibly suggestible. Dangerously, flittingly, skittishly so. And not just about the little things, like which dress to buy or what colour to paint my nails - although definitely about those things too - but sometimes, often, other stuff too. I'm genuinely embarrassed about just how many of the big decisions in my life have come about because somebody just happens to mention something casually in passing. I'm not complaining, you understand - my life would be much worse if a friend hadn't spoken to me on the phone one day late in 2005 and mentioned "you should think about going backpacking" - but, at the other end of the scale, my whole misguided attempt at a corporate life started at the moment someone said to me while I was at university "I think you'd be good in Human Resources". I don't know if it makes a difference that I like and respect the first person; I neither liked nor respected the second, and I suspect it says more about me that I listened to both of them, but the fact of the matter is, other people have affected my life path more than they will ever realise, or I will ever acknowledge.
And obviously, obviously, the same goes for food, too. Whether that suggestion comes from a non-connected place (when I read A Fine Balance a few months back I cooked my way through the India of my memory as I sobbed my way through that book), or something more tangible like a new cookbook (see my recent obsession with Jerusalem as an example), it's to my cookbooks and to my kitchen I will head, until circumstances and funds let Andy and I head off for more adventures. So when somebody mentioned to me that there was a Greek Food Festival in Wellington this weekend, there was two places I was heading. One was to the festival on Hania Street to stuff myself full of Bifteka and Dolmades, the other was to my bookcase.
I've cooked this before, but using a larger leg of lamb which falls apart as it slowly bakes in the tomatoes and gentle spices, reminiscent of so many sunny days. This time, though, cooking for just the two of us, I used lamb chops, slow cooking them still, and then breaking them up through the pasta at the end. The orzo is beautifully silky, and makes a real point of difference from rice. Served with sharp, salty feta crumbled over, this is Mediterranean comfort food and might, just might, stave off the old backpacker's itchy feet for a while.
Baked Greek Lamb & Orzo Stew
Adapted from Tessa Kiros, Food From Many Greek Kitchens
4 large lamb chops
4 tablespoons olive oil
0.5 teaspoon paprika
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 spring onions, roughly chopped
1 tin crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cinnamon stick
Salt and pepper
Feta, to serve.
Preheat your oven to 180C. Squeeze the juice from the lemon, half the oil, paprika and garlic over the lamb and rub it in well, making sure it's all covered.
In a large, ovenproof pan, pour in rest of the oil, followedd by the lamb. Add the spring onions, tomatoes, oregano and cinnamon, and sprinkle over some salt. Put in the oven for 30 minutes.
Add 250ml of hot water (if you had any lamb stock, that would be a good substitution) and cook for an hour.
While this is cooking, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions until it is al dente. Drain well.
When the hour is up on the lamb, stir the pasta through the sauce with 375ml hot water. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes, until the pasta is completely reheated and has absorbed most of the sauce. Using a fork, remove any bones that were in the chops, and gently shred the meat into large chunks.
Serve, with ground pepper and crumbled feta over the top.