This beautiful Greek dish known as youvetsi ( pronounced you-vet-si) is a baked pasta dish that uses orzo — a pasta that looks like large grains of rice. This dish was a staple in our house when I was growing up, and the recipe I am sharing with you is my mother’s version.
Traditionally, youvetsi is 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 chicken or an inexpensive cut of beef. I like to use a good quality chuck, which then braises slowly until tender. There are different grades of chuck (select, choice or Angus), and most people will tell you that there really is no difference when you braise, so why pay the (slightly) higher price for Angus? I generally go for the Angus because of the higher fat content that ensures a tender result. If you choose a lower grade, make sure to pay attention to the amount of marbling in the meat, because there is nothing worse than braising your meat for hours, only for it to be dry and mealy. While the meat is slowly cooking, prepare the sauce. Once the sauce is finished, you simply put it all together in one large baking dish and bake it with the pasta. Make sure to have extra grated cheese!
***An original recipe by www.goodfoodgourmet.com
Preparing the meat
3# chuck, cut into small pieces
¼ cup olive oil
1 small onion, cut into wedges
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
6 cups filtered water
1 beef bouillon
2 bay leaves
Rinse the meat well and cut it into small to medium sized chunks, then rinse and pat dry with a paper towel. Add olive oil to a large pot then add the beef and sauté well on all sides. Allow it to get nice and caramelized on both sides.
Add the water (it should cover the beef) and lower the heat to a simmer. Add the cut up onion, whole 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 about 30 minutes to 1 hour. You can shorten the cooking time for the meat by using a pressure cooker, which will tenderize the meat in only 30 minutes. Once the meat has braised for about 2 hours, remove the meat from the liquid. Remove the fat from the liquid and then add this to the tomato sauce below.
Thin Tomato Sauce For Youvetsi
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 (from the meat above)
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 on the thin side. In a medium sized pot, heat the olive oil and then add the chopped onion and garlic. Saute until they start to wilt and slightly caramelize, but not burn. Then add all of the liquid, tomato paste, bay leaves and oregano. Once combined, check for S&P. Make sure NOT to use too much because the liquid will reduce in the oven, and you don’t want it to get too salty. You will also be adding grated cheese, so keep this in mind. Allow the sauce cook for about 10 minutes on the stove top until everything comes together. Let it come to a rolling boil and then turn off the heat.
Pour the sauce into a large baking pan that will be placed in the oven. Be careful not to burn yourself as this will be very hot.
Add the entire content of one box of orzo directly into the tomato sauce and stir it around to evenly distribute it in the tomato sauce.
Next, add all of the braised pieces of meat into the sauce. Scatter them all over the pan and not just in one place…
Preheat your oven to 350° and place your baking pan on the middle shelf. This will take a total of about 45-50 minutes to cook. About every 15 minutes or so, open the oven and remove the pan to stir everything together. Put the pan back in the oven and turn it around so it all cooks evenly. As you get closer to the finishing time, you will notice that the tomato sauce has thickened and the pasta has cooked. Make sure to taste some of it to make sure that we are almost there. Right before it is finished, remove the pan from the oven and add the grated cheese on top, toss into the baked orzo and place it back into the oven until it melts in the sauce.
When finished, the orzo will be perfectly cooked and tender. Do not over bake. The dish will be ready to remove from the oven when it is still slightly moist. Serve with extra cheese and enjoy!