During the holidays (December) most of us were running at a fast clip with work-related parties, dinners with family and friends and the big dinners around Christmas and New Year’s. December was a month to add some extra cheese, use more butter, creams, that extra-thick steak and ask for seconds of rich dessert. A lot of the dishes we ate were over the top, fancy, rich, an eye towards presentation, accent of celebration.
This dish is none of those. I wanted something to counter all the celebratory foods we had been eating and my belly and soul was craving comfort food. Meatballs are comfort. Pasta is comfort. Cheese is comfort and sauces are comforting. Giouvetsi dishes in Greek cuisine are baked casseroles that combine a protein, liquid and kritharaki pasta (rice shaped pasta widely known as orzo). There was a time when rice was very expensive in Greece and the pasta shape of kritharaki was created to mimic the shape of rice (and in fact stand in its place).
Kritharaki is a popular pasta shape in Greek cuisine and if you do a search of “Giouvetsi” dishes on the site, you’ll see a few other versions of this comforting genre of dishes. Kritharaki will be found at your Greek grocer or deli and failing that, orzo will work (however I still think kritharaki is a superior product).
This dish is requested by my Dad often, combining a saute of onions and green peppers, the addition of tomato sauce, the kritharaki, a homemade stock (of your choice) and keftedes, a Greek meatball. This recipe is a two-parter involving some skillet action and then finished-off in the oven.
One simply has to make the keftedes mixture, form them & fry them off and then build flavours in the skillet and transfer the ingredients to a baking vessel and finish off in the oven. The only thing left to do is portion out and plate and serve with your choice of grated cheese you like to top your pasta. In keeping this dish Greek, I recommend topping with a grated dry Mizithra cheese. Dry mizithra is made from the why that’s leftover from the process of making Feta cheese. In essence it’s a ricotta cheese that’s salted and dried and ends up on market shelves in a firm, round ball. Simply grate it over your pasta and enjoy!
Giouvetsi With Keftedes (Γιουβετσι με Κεφτεδες)
For the Keftedes
1 lb. lean ground beef
2 slices of stake bread, soaked in water then squeezed dry
1 medium onion, passed through a box grater
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. dried Greek oregano
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1 tsp. sea salt (or to taste)
oil for frying
flour for dredging
For the Giouvetsi
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green ( or red) bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cups of krithiraki or orzo
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 cup of pomodoro tomato sauce (passata)
6 cups of veal, chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated dried Mizithra cheese (or your fave cheese for topping pasta)
- In a bowl, add all of your keftedes ingredients and mix with your hands. Take a spoonful of the mixture and fry-off in a pan to taste-test adjust flavouring to your liking. Form the mixture into palm-sized meatballs then gently flatten to form keftedes.
- In a heavy-bottomed skillet, add some olive oil over medium-heat and while it’s heating, dredge your keftedes in some all-purpose flour. Fry-off your keftedes on both sides until golden-brown and set aside.
- In the same skillet, add the remaining olive oil and and your onions, garlic and green pepper and saute (all the while scraping up the brown bits with a wooden spoon) for 5-10 minutes or until the onions have softened. Now add your krithiraki and paprika and stir to coat and toast the pasta (for about 5 minutes).
- Add the tomato sauce, stock and bring to a boil while stirring. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Once everything has come to a boil, pour into a large casserole dish and place the reserved keftedes on top and bake in a preheated 375F oven for 45 minutes or until most of the liquid has absorbed and your top is golden brown.
- Let stand for 10 minutes and serve in large bowls with freshly grated black pepper and grated dry Mizithra cheese. Pair with a Ktima Stergiou Kokkini Petra red from Kastoria. This dry red is a blend of Merlot, Cinsaut & Cab. Sauvignon.
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