arni yiouvetsi (lamb baked with orzo)

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Sometimes I enjoy exquisite meals in restaurants that I would never try to recreate at home, that I am happy to experience thoroughly in the moment and then leave behind. Other times I try something I love and then become fixated on figuring out how to make it myself. This recipe – lamb braised in a pot with orzo – fits into the second category. I first had this at the same restaurant in Central Jersey, Pithari Taverna, that inspired these lemon potatoes. When I moved to Jersey City, I thought this meal would be like the first kind I described above, something magical that could only be relived in memory, until I discovered recently that it’s actually a fairly common Greek recipe that could easily be found with a quick Google search.

I knew that the tomato sauce at Pithari had a distinctly non-Italian taste to it, but for the longest time I had no idea what special ingredient gave it such a different flavor profile. The answer? Cinnamon. To people only used to adding cinnamon to desserts or sugary breakfast foods, this might sound like a weird spice to put in a savory recipe – but paired with lamb and tomatoes, it contributes a warm, earthy, and peculiarly Greek flavor.
CIMG3044Unfortunately, I somehow managed not to get any good shots of the lamb itself when I was taking photos. It’s there somewhere in that pile of orzo. After two and a half hours of slow braising in the oven, it is meltingly tender and falls apart if you poke it. Though this meal is baked in a clay pot at Pithari, which I am sure adds some extra-special something-or-other to it, don’t let not having one be an excuse not to try this – I used my stainless steel, and was blown away by how exactly like the version from my favorite far away Greek restaurant this tasted.  Read the rest of this entry »