Lamb stew:

2 pounds lamb shoulder, cubed into 1 ½ inch cubes

½ cup onion, chopped finely

½ cup celery, chopped finely

¼ cup carrot, chopped finely

3 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and Pepper

½ teaspoon ground Allspice

1 tablespoon Tomato paste

Scant ¼ cup Balsamic vinegar

1 cup full bodied red wine (such as Cabernet or Pinot)

1 28 ounce can tomato puree

1 cup water

1 bay leaf

1 cup grated Gruyere Cheese

1 pound mini penne (the finished dish is so much easier to eat this way)

¼ cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley

1 Stick unsalted butter

½ cup flour

4 cups milk (2 percent or even one percent—not skim)


1 cup parmesan

½ cup parmesan

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Season the lamb with salt and pepper.

In a large Dutch oven coat the lamb with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and place in the oven (uncovered) until the lamb cubes are browned. This may required a few stirrings throughout the roasting process. This may take 40-60 minutes. When the lamb is browned take the pan out of the oven and remove the lamb to a dish and allow the pan to cool. Blot up the grease in the pan with paper towels and discard. (I do this in the oven because browning lamb on the stove top is a major mess).

Place the pan over med heat and add two tablespoons of fresh olive oil and add all of the vegetables and garlic. Season with salt and pepper again. Sweat over the medium heat, covered for about 2-3 minutes and then remove the cover and continue to cook until limp and slightly colored (about 5 minutes).


Add the Allspice and cook for a minute or two so that the Allspice releases its flavor and scent. Add the tomato paste and fry for a minute or so.


Remove from heat and add the wine and the balsamic. Return to heat. Simmer for about 2-3 minutes to cook out the alcohol.

Add the tomatoes, the lamb cubes and about 1 cup of water (remember you’re making a stew so give or take and use your instinct—adjust as you go along), and the bay leaf. Cover and simmer over low heat for 2 to 2.5 hours. The lamb should be falling apart after the stewing and there should be a total of about 4-5 cups of sauce and lamb. Adjust the seasoning along the way but watch your salt because we are adding cheese later.

Let cool. Cover, and refrigerate. Remove from fridge after an overnight chill (or 2-3 hours) and remove the fat that has solidified on top. Remove bay leaf.

Take each piece of meat and shred with two forks. Return to pot. If you feel that the stew is a little dense you can add some water at this point. Reheat the stew over medium heat.

Boil 1 pound of penne (small penne) noodles in salted water. Boil until al dente because they will cook in the oven as well. Drain. Mix in with the sauce. Add one cup grated Gruyere cheese and stir. Add parsley and stir well. Check for seasoning again and adjust with salt and pepper.

Butter a 9 by 13 dish and add the pasta mixture and spread out.

Melt 1 stick of sweet butter and ½ cup of flour together. Add 4 cups of milk, slowly, salt and pepper and a nice grinding of nutmeg. Watch the salt again because we are adding parmesan to this later. Stir with a whisk and let it bubble for a few minutes to cook the flour out. Turn off heat. Add 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese. Taste and check for seasoning. Adjust.

Pour over the noodles, spread out and then sprinkle ½ cup of parmesan over the top.

Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes until bubbly and brown. Remove from oven. Cool and serve in squares at room temp or even slightly warm.


Tip: If you cannot find lamb shoulder, and you use cubes from the leg, the stewing time will go up about an hour because it will take longer for the muscular lamb leg to fall apart.

Tip: Using the aromatics of onion, garlic, celery and carrot round out this stew and add multiple layers of flavor. Along with the tomato paste and bay leaf, the resulting stew has no resemblance to a typical pasticcio.

Tip: Overnight chill in the refrigerator is essential but 2-3 hours should do it. The degreasing which is required cleans up the flavor of the lamb.

Tip: If you have a parmesan cheese rind, a small piece maybe 2 inches by 2 inches, you may add it to the stew while it is cooking. This adds wonderful flavor.





A big mess

The meaning of the word Pastichio, in Italian, is a big mess. Actually the word itself means, a big mess. Never mind that the word, as it relates to food, does not exist in Italy, and was probably misappropriated by the Greeks during some occupation, war or crusade.  This casserole, having made an appearance on the menu of every Greek diner nationwide, is a cannibalized version of what I would like to think is the original. As usual, recipes that come before me get tweaked, and this one was no exception. 

The dish usually makes its appearance as a beef bolognese imposter on ziti noodles topped by a thick, cloying custard known as bechamel sauce (from the French, of course).  As it now stands, and as it stood on countless buffets at family gatherings, it was well, just not good.  It needed massive improvement.  I was up to the challenge.

First off, lamb instead of ground beef.  The “stew” portion of the dish had to include lamb cubes which were stewed for hours in a rich ragu. The stewing process would render the lamb cubes into strands of shredded lusciousness.

The resultant “stew” was infused with the flavors of the shredded lamb and the added mirepoix that dominates so many French preparations. A few more changes…..allspice instead of cinnamon and a splash of balsamic to compliment the red wine and tomato puree.  This was no ordinary sauce, and after a degreasing (post chill in the fridge), it was indeed a gorgeous, silken lamb ragout.  And when that ragout coated the one pound of penne with along with one cup of Gruyere cheese the results were, well, delicious. On it’s own, I could have devoured the entire pound of pasta.

Deciding to turn the pasta into its intended result, I poured the pasta into a casserole dish and topped it with a thinner layer of bechamel sauce… to which I added one cup of Parmiggiano Reggiano.  Oh the smells coming from the oven as it baked!  The resulting mess is exactly what I set out to accomplish.  A mess it might be but a sublime one at that.  The photo and recipe will appear on Sunday because this mess is going to my mom’s for Greek Easter.  Christos Anesti!