Greeks have mastered the all-in-one dish, and it’s really no surprise. Up until recently, having your own oven was somewhat uncommon. Instead you had to share space at the local bakery. No one likes a space-hog.
One key benefit of doing an all-in-one meal (aside from saving some time) is that you are rewarded with a lot of flavor. Think about it, when did you have a soup made with just meat and water? Or even a single vegetable and water? Boring.
Yiouvetsi (also spelled giouvetsi and pronounced yee-oo-VEH-tsee, with the first two sounds said quickly together) is actually a class of Greek dishes whose common ground lies in being made with kritharaki pasta (a.k.a. orzo) and tomatoes, along with some form of animal protein like chicken, lamb, beef, shrimp, etc., all baked together in a casserole dish. The meat can either be in pieces, or whole cuts like a leg of lamb.
While the meal cooks, the juices from the meat and tomatoes are absorbed into the pasta, packing in a hefty amount of taste in every bite. Some recipes for yiouvetsi are unnecessarily fussy, but this one is pretty much a dump-and-go. Once done, you’ll have yourself a meal for a small crowd, or yummy leftovers for easy dinner the next night or two!
Lamb Yiouvetsi Recipe
- 4 – 5 lb. boneless leg of lamb
- 2 15-oz cans diced tomatoes with juice, or 3 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (choose juicy ones and be sure to gather all the liquid)
- 1 cup red wine (cheap burgundy is perfect)
- 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. olive oil, extra virgin preferred
- 2 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic, about 8 large cloves
- 2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups kritharaki pasta (also known as orzo)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Kalamata olives for serving (optional)
Preheat oven to 450 F. Generously oil a deep baking dish or Dutch oven that is just large enough to hold your lamb leg. You don’t want too wide of a dish or the pasta will dry out before being cooked.
Combine the tomatoes, wine, 1/4 cup of oil, 1 Tbsp. of the garlic, 1 Tbsp. of the rosemary, water, and desired amount of salt and pepper (keep in mind canned tomatoes will likely already have salt) in the baking dish. Sprinkle the pasta evenly over the tomato mixture, but don’t stir it in. Stirring will cause the pasta to sink where it will be more likely to stick to the bottom.
Combine the remaining oil, rosemary and garlic and rub the mixture all over the leg of lamb. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper to taste. Tie the leg up with cooking twine and place it over the tomato mixture with the cut side down. Spoon some of the liquid over the top of the lamb.
Place the baking dish in the oven, uncovered, and immediately reduce the heat to 350 F. Roast for 20 minutes per pound (this will be “medium done”), or to preferred result. Check on the pasta half-way through the cooking time and add hot water as needed if it looks like it is getting too dry (no more than 1/2 – 3/4 cup should be needed). When the meat is cooked, remove from the oven and lightly cover the casserole dish with aluminum foil for 10 minutes to allow the roast to “rest” and the pasta to loosen from the dish.
Remove the roast and carve. Serve the pasta on the side and stir in some Kalamata olives, if desired. The pasta may have stuck a little to the bottom of the dish, but should still be able to be scraped out with a firm spatula. This tastes great with a sprinkling of Parmesan or dried mizithra cheese. Enjoy!