Whenever I’m in a cooking rut—or just need new ideas for getting dinner on the table—I usually find myself doing the same thing: pulling an Ottolenghi cookbook off the shelf. I have all of his books on a small bookcase next to my kitchen, and they never fail to inspire. I turned to them on a recent cold, dreary day, when wanting a hearty dinner full of bold flavors that would transport me to a warmer, sunnier place.
I grabbed Jerusalem first since it includes meat and vegetable dishes, and I needed a destination for the wayward package of ground lamb in my fridge. I stopped on Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Pine Nuts. The spiced lamb sounded enticing, but with no eggplant on hand, I kept flipping through the pages. I stopped again on his Conchiglie with Yoghurt, Peas & Chilli, a dish I’ve made and enjoyed before. And then my mind went back to that lamb, since lamb and yogurt are the most winning of pairs, as are lamb and pasta. That’s how the idea for this Crispy Spiced Lamb with Yogurt Pasta was born.
Ottolenghi, Jerusalem, Plenty More
Pondering how to combine spiced lamb and yogurt-y pasta into one coherent dish, I remembered Diana Kochilas’ Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions (a Genius recipe from this very site). It’s so simple and good, everyone should keep a tub of Greek yogurt on hand just for this dish. The sauce requires no blending (just a mix of Greek yogurt thinned with pasta water) and is much lighter than Ottolenghi’s version (his calls for blending a generous amount of olive oil with Greek yogurt, garlic, and peas until the sauce is an even, pale green). With rich lamb, Kochilas’ version would be the better match, but I didn’t want to lose the rich, creamy luxuriousness of Ottolenghi’s sauce.
So I did the obvious: I melded their yogurt pasta recipes. I kept Kochilas’ technique intact but added a few Ottolenghi elements: a small amount of olive oil for oomph, a handful of peas to harken spring, and conchiglie (aka medium shells) to catch and hold onto the yogurt sauce and peas. I also skipped the caramelized onions in Kochilas’ version since I’d have plenty of golden onions in my lamb.
For my spiced lamb, I turned to Ottolenghi's Lamb and Pine Nuts as my starting point and made small tweaks to the spicing and seasoning. I then off-roaded a bit. Instead of sauteing the lamb until just done, I cooked it until deeply browned and crispy—a good move because those crispy bits of lamb perfectly contrast the creamy pasta.
Given the dishes that inspired it, it’s no surprise that it was exactly what I’d hoped for: a feisty pasta dish that leaves you wanting for a second helping. It’s one of those rare dishes that I’d serve anytime, anywhere, on any occasion, because it’s so big on flavor and personality. I’ve made it several times mid-week, and it feels like a celebration at the end of a long day. I look forward to leftovers, too: the texture of the pasta is different (and equally delicious) on Day 2 since the pasta slurps up some of the yogurt sauce and gets a little crispy around the edges when reheated.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika (smoked or regular)
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1 pound pasta (conchiglie or medium shells)
- 1 1/2 cups frozen peas
- 2 cups Greek yogurt (2% or full-fat recommended)
- Finely grated zest + juice from 1 small lemon
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
What cookbook do you turn to when you're lacking inspiration? Let us know in the comments!