A Casserole in the Greek Manner

Recipes kindly sponsored by Flahavan’s

Well, given the events of this week and the much heralded Greek default on 30 July, I decided to do something vaguely Hellenic for supper that very evening. I was thinking of kleftiko, I suppose, but I didn’t have a leg of lamb to hand and, after all, there were only two of us. So I made a casserole loosely based on this Greek classic.

It’s a dish that doesn’t take prisoners. There’s a lot of lemon juice and it quite sharp, but we loved it. And there’s a lot of oil and rendered fat most of which, to be honest, stays on the plate as you eat it. But oil and fat have great flavour; don’t knock them. The lemon helps to cut the richness, of course.

A further advantage is that this is a one pot dish, so you save on washing up. And you don’t need to faff around, browning the meat.

In fact, much as I’m inclined to chew the carpet when TV chefs go “and it’soooo easy!” I have to confess that this dish isn’t much more difficult than falling off a log.

A Casserole in the Greek Manner

700g neck of lamb
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
a bay leaf
120ml good olive oil
120ml water
juice of 2 lemons
½ tsp ground cinnamon
black pepper
sea salt
600g potatoes

Set the oven to 190ºC, gas mark 5.

Cut the neck of lamb into the kind of chunks you would like to find on your plate. There’s lots of fat; that’s part of the point of neck of lamb, so don’t go trying to trim it off; there will be nothing left.

Dump your lamb chunks into a casserole – ideally an earthenware one – but it has to have a lid. Chop the onion and smash, peel and slice the garlic and add all to the casserole. Add the herbs and the bay leaves. This is really easy isn’t it?

Now pour in the oil, the water and the lemon juice (ideally sans pips, as they are fiercely bitter), stir in the cinnamon, season with black pepper and sea salt.

Cut the potatoes into quarters an distribute them around the casserole, partly submerged in the liquid, partly soaring above it, like icebergs.

Put the lid on and pop in the oven. After 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 170ºC, gas mark 3 and cook for a further two hours.

Ovens vary, of course, and so do casseroles, thus it’s wise to look at your dish every now and then just to see that it’s not drying out too much or burning. If it is, reduce the heat a little and add some water.

When the meat is exceptionally tender, remove from the oven and allow to cool slighty before serving, perhaps with a simple salad of lettuce hearts and vinaigrette.

In the absence of anything Greek in the way of wine, we felt relieved of geographical imperatives and had the La Linda Malbec from Argentina which was as good a match as I could imagine.