Sunday, January 22

Mutton Kleftiko, Orzo Pasta, Feta & Parsley Salad

I'm pretty happy with how this dish turned out. It sounds exotic but soothes and satisfies like the best sort of comfort food. Don't be scared to seek out and use mutton, slow braising results in butter soft meat but with double the flavour of lamb (and cheaper to boot).  If you don't have a slow cooker then bring the stew to the boil, cover and then transfer to a low oven (140c) for the same cooking time. You may not have seen orzo pasta before (risoni in Italian cookery)? It is made of the same stuff as the more common pastas but is a tiny rice shaped grain. You can get it in Waitrose and specialist delis. For 2 hefty portions:

Mutton shoulder - 700g piece, boned, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 inch chunks
A few lamb bones scrounged from your butcher (optional)
Veg Oil - 2 tbsp
Orzo pasta - 2 large handfuls
Beef or chicken stock - 300ml
Red wine - 200ml
1 onion - peeled and finely chopped
Pitted Kalamata olives - 100g
Chopped tomatoes - 400g tin
Rosemary & Thyme - 1 large sprig of each
Dried oregano - 1 tsp
Whole clove - 1
Cinnamon stick - half
Bay leaves - 2
Garlic - 2 large cloves, roughly chopped
Sugar - a generous pinch
Worcestershire sauce - a good shake
Red wine vinegar - 2 tsp
Parsley - a small handful of leaves picked from the stems
Feta - 100g, cubed or crumbled
Red onion - 1/2 peeled and finely sliced

Season and hard fry the mutton in a roomy pan to get a good golden crust on the chunks. Fry in batches if necessary. Drain and transfer the meat and the bones to your slow cooking vessel. In the same pan now devoid of most of the oil, gently fry the white onion and garlic until translucent. Turn up the heat and deglaze the pan with the wine. When most has evaporated, add the beef stock and bring to the boil. Tip the pan juices into with the meat. Toss in the woody and dry herbs (not the parsley), spices, and the tomatoes. Set your slow cooker to 'low' and leave to cook for 5 hours. 

After the allotted cooking time, the meat should be falling apart. Remove the bones, the herb stalks, the cinnamon and the clove (if you can find it). Skim any excess oil off the top of the stew - sheep are fatty beasts. Taste and season heavily with salt, pepper, a little red wine vinegar, a pinch of sugar and a shake of Worcestershire sauce. Toss in the olives and the orzo and continue to cook, lid on, for another 20 mins until the orzo is soft. The pasta will suck up a lot of the juices from the stew - you want a thick saucy end result - so add more water or stock if necessary.

Toss together the red onion, feta and parsley (with a little olive oil and lemon if you wish). Tip the stew into a nice big bowl, top with the salad and allow people to help themselves. A crisp green salad and some crusty bread is a nice accompaniment - as is the remainder of the red wine.

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