When I was a child I thought Orzo (or κριθαράκι) was actually a seed, like rice or a very special type of barley because in Greek and Italian Orzo or κριθαράκι actually means ‘little pearl of barley’! The second least obvious reason to anyone who might not have seen or eaten orzo is its shape. The pasta looks like a seed and is many times cooked like risotto, added to ingredients that have already been cooked long enough to release flavours and juices (soffrito or slow roasts).
Orzo returned to my kitchen when I picked up a pack of a Misco κριθαράκι at the Deli counter of Pipi’s café in Cardiff and has since been the basic ingredient for many improvised meals this year. It has been the impromptu but exciting pasta dressed in a chilly infused yet simple red tomato sauce for long catch ups and film nights with my wonderful Wendy (AKA Dr Dodds). It has lined our stomach with starchy satisfaction at the end of wine mellowed evenings with Elpida (cousin and friend extrordinaire). A variation of the recipe has seen this dish turn into a pasta bake topped with strong cheddar. It provided the basic ingredient for simple salads flavoured with cooked young spinach leaves, pine nuts, fresh parmesan and pepper that welcomed unexpected guests stopping by to pay us a visit. Recently in the Γιουβέτσι (giouvetsi) dish that I wrote about recently orzo has reclaimed its Greek traditional use in my cooking!
The return to cooking with orzo pasta definitely pointed out an iterative journey to dishes and recipes that I have grown up with and characterise my Greek identity. I realised that this cooking itinerary from experimentation to solid basics has been repeating itself and in a symbolic way it sums me up: the alchemy of flavours, ingredients and recipes from the micro cultures of Greece to new tastes and worldly “cuisines” that have rubbed off on me in the 14 years away from the birth land. Innovation and reinterpretation at once but with once common characteristic: each time this cooking iteration returns to deep routed sensory memories and recipes that will always be part of me.
I have always refused to be mindlessly patriotic, I actually despise manifestations of national delirium and at times have fearfully rejected national symbols but I soon realised that there is a difference between cultural awareness and nationalism. The one embraces and mixes whilst the other puts up solid walls and preaches parochialism, albeit it with the same cultural reference . And one of the ways that I have come to love and appreciate my culture (in its emerging hybridity) is through cooking.
Thinking about all this today has made me reassured and happy in realising that I have not forgotten who I am and that I am becoming who I want to be: my own filter of tastes, experiencses and cultures.
Follow this link for more on simple Orzo inspired recipes.
 Orza! In the context used here means ‘go ahead’ or ‘sail on’ and is used as a phrase of encouragement in Greek. The word is latin and translates to luff in English and actually means to sail closer in to the wind (particularly when a vessels sail is flapping).
In mid September and soon after I returned from Western Crete, where we tried a variety of goat meat recipes, I noticed the Pantypwyddyn Farm stall at the Saturday farmers’ market in Roath sells wild goat. It was a meaty wild goat leg on the bone that had me looking for a Roast Goat spaghetti recipe otherwise known as γιουβέτσι (giouvetsi) in Greek. Even though the goat meat version of giouvetsi is one of my favourite dishes I had never cooked it before this September but have since added it to our monthly ‘meat’ treats much to the delight of Mr Green.
Γιουβέτσι (giouvetsi) is a term used in Greek cuisine for roast meat-and-pasta dishes that are cooked slowly in an oven pot. Γιουβέτσι seems to literally translate ‘roast’ in English but I have not been very successful with this word’s accurate translation, origin or etymology and must keep searching for its roots, history and journey into the Greek cuisine and language. One thing’s for sure the word has been adopted well in Greek cuisine and is just synonymous with the dish!
Γιουβέτσι (giouvetsi) is traditionally cooked in an oven pot called γάστρα(gastra) a term that literally translates to ‘belly’ or a ‘ship’s hull’. In cooking terms it is (traditionally) a clay oven pot for slow cooking but there are many modern versions made of metal and do the job well. Στη γάστρα (in the gastra) in every dayuse is a phrase that describes dishes and their method of slow oven cooking, particularly for meat, even if electrical or gas ovens are used instead of a traditional wood-fire oven or a fire over which the clay or ‘other material’ pot was placed; you will come across it in many restaurants and taverns in Greece.
The pasta used most commonly in giouvetsi, particularly for the veal or beef version of the dish, is orzo (κριθαράκι) but spaghetti is more commonly used for the lamb and goat on-the-bone versions of the recipe. Many cook books and blogs suggest adding tomato, onion, bay leaves, garlic and cinnamon sticks together with 2-3 cups of hot water to the goat or lamb whilst it roasts to help prepare the stock for the pasta to cook at end of the cooking time. There are many versions that I read and talked about recently but here is what I have tried in the past two months.
For my goat giouvesti recipe I used juice of a lemon, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper to marinade the goat (about 700 gr of meat on the bone) and added a bit of boiling water (nearly a cup), some bay leaves and a bit of sweet paprika to the pot to prepare the stock for the pasta whilst the meat roasted. I slow cooked the goat on the bone for around 2 hours, a bit longer than the suggested time (30 min per 0.5 Kg+20min). By that time the meat was ‘falling’ off the bone so in this case I removed the meat from the pot for the second part of the recipe. The second part took 20 minutes, and required some more water added (1-2 boiling hot cups) and half or one packet of spaghetti. I deliberately stirred the pasta a couple of times whilst it was cooking in the oven and instead pouring both two cups of water at once I added them gradually to make sure the pasta absorbs all the liquid. I didn’t really need to adjust the seasoning but still added some more pepper as I really like the peppery taste of the pasta with the goat.
For today’s lamb giouvetsi I used a leg of lamb (1kg) bought at the Sunday Riverside Farmer’s Market, again from the Pantypwyddyn Farm stall to make a variation of the goat recipe, an uplifting treat to our flu and cough tortured souls and bodies (we have had enough soup already!). I ‘hid’ whole garlic cloves in the leg of lamb (about 5) and marinated it in lemon juice and olive oil, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. For the stock I started as before but after 1 hour and 15 minutes of roasting I added some passata tomato (half to one cup), another cup of boiling water and two small cinnamon sticks. And about 15 minutes later I added about 250gr of orzo pasta that slow cooked for 20 minutes. It was good I checked half way through the pasta cooking as all the water was all gone and I had to add a bit more (about on cup). This time I did not remove the meat from the oven dish for the second part of the recipe. And just like that (admittedly after 2.5 hours) we tucked in the most delicious lamb recipe I have cooked. Tried and tested – this dish is guaranteed to be a success.
Note to all Cardiff Farmer market regulars: Whilst there is no guarantee you will get goat at Saturday Roath Market, and you can replace it with lamb, the stall holders told me goat is growing in popularity. So do keep an eye out for it, ask the stall holder if he has any in the farm fridge because they can bring some along to Sunday’s Riverside Market and …make sure you give me a shout too! I do prefer the goat meat because of its leanness, prefer its texture and find it more flavoursome than lamb.