Comfort food in a clay pot

The Baking Soprano

by Maria Diamantis

Youvetsi is a baked Greek dish made with chicken, lamb or beef and pasta, either (orzo) or noodles, and tomato sauce, usually spiced with allspice and sometimes cinnamon, cloves or bay leaves. Other common ingredients include onions/shallots, garlic, beef stock, and red wine, as well as some cheese to serve.
So if you have a clay Dutch oven ( pot), I’m going to suggest using it!
It’s an ancient method of cooking which uses a two-part (top and bottom) unglazed clay pot that has first been soaked in water. When heated to a high temperature, steam is created, adding moisture to whatever is being cooked and retaining nutrients.
Just be careful before using it, follow these steps
• Always soak the pot in cool water for 10 to 15 minutes before using it.
• Never put a clay pot in a preheated oven because it will crack from the shock of the heat
• Bake at high temperatures (400º to 475º F) to let the moisture that’s saturated the clay slowly turn into steam.
• Do not place a hot clay pot on a cold or cool surface as it will crack. So, when taking a hot pot out of the oven, always place on a wood or heat resistant trivet or potholder.
• Clay pots should not be used on top of the stove.
• Add liquids sparingly — as any food you’re cooking will throw off liquids and you don’t want the pot to overflow.
• Because it retains heat, a clay pot will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven. So, either factor this into your cooking time or else remove the cover and the food soon after removing it from the oven.
500 g Medium Orzo
1 kg beef or Chicken pieces (you can leave bone on) in portions
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1 cinnamon stick
4-5 allspice grains
½ tsp. cumin
2 tbsp. tomato paste
150 ml red wine
800 g grated tomatoes
1 tbsp. sugar
700 ml water
150 g Kefalotyri ( Greek hard cheese) or Asiago, grated
olive oil
salt
pepper
METHOD
In a non stick pot, heat 5-6 tsp. of olive oil. Salt and pepper the beef ( or any other type of meat) and sauté for 3-4 minutes on all sides until golden brown. Transfer the beef to a plate.
In the same pot, sauté the onion for 2-3 minutes until it softens, adding salt and pepper to taste. Add the garlic, cinnamon stick, allspice and cumin and sauté for 1 minute.
Continue to sauté adding the tomato paste, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.
Add the meat together with its juices and pour in the wine. Once most alcohol has evaporated, add the grated tomatoes and the sugar.
Bring to a boil, lower the heat and add the water. Cover with a lid and allow the meat to simmer for about 1 hour. At the end, remove the cinnamon stick and the allspice.
In another shallow pot, heat 3 tbsp. of olive oil. Sauté the Medium Orzo for 2-3 minutes and remove from the heat.
In a greased heat resistant dish or pan, pour in the orzo and top with the beef and its sauce ( if using bones and whole spices , make sure they are removed either by picking them out or using a sieve to strain) stirring gently to distribute the ingredients evenly. If the orzo is not fully covered by the sauce, add as much water to cover by 2-3 cm.
Cook in a preheated oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes, until brown and all water is absorbed. Note: if you are using the clay pot do not put in preheated oven.
Serve warm, sprinkled with grated cheese.