Pronounced yu-ve-tsi, this baked orzo dish was a staple in our house when I was growing up. My mother made a delicious version, and I am glad to share her recipe with all of you. Traditionally it was made with lamb, but most Greek households make it with either chicken or beef. It is a little time consuming, but very inexpensive to make, especially if you are using beef. We use a really inexpensive cut (chuck) and braise it slowly for a few hours until it is fork tender. While that is cooking, we put all of the other ingredients together, and as soon as the meat is cooked, it goes right into the oven. I hope that you have an opportunity to try it as it is absolutely delicious!
***An original recipe by www.goodfoodgourmet.com
3# chuck, cut into small pieces
¼ cup olive oil
1 small onion, cut into wedges
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 bay leaves
Rinse the meat well and cut it into small to medium sized chunks and pat dry with a paper towel. Then salt and pepper the meat generously. Add olive oil to a large pot then add the beef and sauté well on all sides. Add enough water to cover the beef, and lower the heat to a simmer. Add the onion, garlic cloves and the bay leaves and cook for 2 hours or until meat is very tender. If you are using chicken, this process will only take 1-1 ½ hours. You can shorten the cooking time for the meat by using a pressure cooker, which will tenderize the meat in only 30 minutes. While you are waiting for the meat to cook, prepare the tomato sauce.
Thin Tomato Sauce
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
2 small cans tomato paste
1 Tablespoon oregano leaves
4 cups beef broth
4 cups water
1 small can petite diced tomatoes (optional, sub for 1 cup water)
2 bay leaves
1# box Barilla orzo pasta
½ cup grated kefalotyri cheese (or parmesan)
S&P to taste
About 15 minutes before the meat is scheduled to finish cooking, start the tomato sauce so that everything comes together at the same time. In order for the orzo to cook in the oven, the tomato sauce needs to be flavorful, but on the thin side. Take a medium sized pot and heat the olive oil. Then add the chopped onion and garlic, and sauté until they start to caramelize but not burn. Then add all of the liquid, tomato paste, bay leaves and oregano. Once combined, check for S&P, but don’t add too much because the liquid will reduce when it is in the oven, and you don’t want it to get too salty…plus you are adding the cheese at a later stage which will add even more salty flavor to the dish. Let the sauce cook for about 5 minutes and then pour this into a large baking dish that will be large enough to bake everything in. Be careful not to burn yourself as this will be very hot. Add the orzo directly from the box into the baking dish and stir well. At this point, the meat will be cooked, so remove all of your meat pieces and nestle them into the sauce. Preheat your oven to 350° and put the pan on the middle shelf. This will cook in about 45-50 minutes. During this time, remove from oven and stir to evenly distribute the orzo and the sauce, and 10 minutes before it is finished add the cheese on top and then cook until golden brown. When finished, the orzo will be perfectly cooked and tender, because it has absorbed all of the liquid and the flavor. Do not overbake, the dish will be ready when it is still slightly moist. If you are not sure, taste the orzo…it should be completely cooked through. Serve with some more cheese on top and enjoy!
NOTE: I cook the meat first and then I strain the liquid and use that in the dish. Make sure to remove the fat from the top of the liquid before you measure it out. I usually get 4-5 cups of broth, so I just add the difference in water. I love petite diced tomatoes, but my family does not. If I add one small can of the diced tomato, I remove 1 cup of water.