About a million years ago, when my brothers and I were just starting to be adventurous enough to eat foods other than Norwegian meatballs or fish cakes, my mom found a recipe for Greek lamb with orzo in a magazine -- Cooking Light or Eating Well or one of those types -- and tried it out on us. It was a hit and became a mainstay of our family meals. It was also the recipe she sent to each of us, successively, when we needed something easy but impressive to cook for friends in college. It's still one of my favorite meals, and a wonderful way to easily serve a crowd. Of course, as I've evolved, my lamb with orzo has evolved as well, gathering additional ingredients and spices like a glacier gathering stones. Very recently, I made April Bloomfield's lamb meatballs in spicy sauce, and it knocked my socks off with its deliciousness. It also reminded me of my lamb with orzo -- which by this point had already become more "Greek" flavored than Greek flavored -- so I adapted some of her techniques, adding them to the mix.
What makes this a cheap feast? When I think of a feast, besides feeding a crowd, I feel like it ought to have some little elements of decadence, some richness that makes it feel ever so above the ordinary. But, if it needs to be cheap, this means you must be clever and judicious with your fancier ingredients, scattering them with elegance rather than ebullience, and stretching them with simpler, complementary, ingredients. I feel like this dish does just that. —fiveandspice
Test Kitchen Notes
WHO: Fiveandspice is a long-time Food52-er who works nothing but magic in the kitchen.
WHAT: A filling -- and exciting -- dinner that goes from stove to the table in under an hour.
HOW: Cook up a pot of saucy, fragrant lamb, and then all that's left is a quick boil of the pasta.
WHY WE LOVE IT: The process is straightforward, but the finished dish doesn't taste that way; in terms of eating and cooking, it's a win-win. And you only have to dirty two pots! We'd run out for the ingredients now, if we were you. —The Editors
- Prep time 20 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes
- Serves 8-10
large yellow onion, finely chopped
cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 1/2 teaspoons
crushed red pepper
can of whole tomatoes, drained and smooshed with your hands (fun!)
can of chopped/diced tomatoes
fresh spinach, chopped
chopped fresh parsley
lemon juice, freshly squeezed
salt and pepper, to taste
kalamata olives, pitted and finely chopped
- In a good sized Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pan, heat the one tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until it is shimmering. Add the lamb and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Cook, stirring to break it apart, until it is nicely browned. Remove the lamb with a slotted spoon and drain all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.
- Return the pot to the stove top and add the onion and garlic (still over medium-high). Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the spices (cinnamon, oregano, cumin, coriander, and red pepper) and cook until they start smelling extremely toasty and fragrant (1-2 minutes). Then, stir in the smooshed tomatoes.
- Cook the smooshed tomatoes in the spices, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Then, add the can of diced tomatoes and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
- Add the cooked lamb back to the pot, give a good stir, then cover the pot and leave it to cook, stirring from time to time, for 20 minutes. At this point, stir in the fresh spinach and cook just a couple more minutes until the spinach is wilted. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste (keeping in mind you'll be sprinkling just a touch of feta and olives on, which will add to the saltiness).
- While the lamb and tomatoes are simmering together and marrying their flavors, bring a large pot of well-salted water (it should taste like sea water, basically) to a boil. Add the orzo and cook until al dente, about 7 or 8 minutes, usually. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.
- Drain the orzo. Toss the orzo with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice, and all of the parsley, adding a bit of pasta water at a time, if you feel it needs additional liquid.
- Spread the orzo out on an enormous serving platter. Spoon the lamb and sauce all over the top, then sprinkle with the feta and chopped olives. Pass the dish around the table and relax. A good red wine, on the dry side, is a highly recommended companion here.