In Greece, there are still small neighborhood bakeries that offer one incredible service: you can actually take your food to the bakery and have it baked there for you only for a couple euros. This “service” dates back to the days when homes did not have ovens, and if you wonder why you would consider doing such a thing nowadays, here are a few reasons: For one, professional ovens are stronger and cook better that the ones we have at home, therefore the food is somehow tastier. Secondly, especially during the hot summer months, no one wants an additional source of heat in the house, such as an oven burning for two-three hours. And a third reason is that it gives you incredible peace of mind. You can put together all the ingredients of a recipe in a baking dish or a pan, take it to the bakery, go shopping, run errands, and pick it up on the way home, and you have food ready on your plate! I did this multiple times, usually before going to the beach and it was such a luxury to pick up homemade food on the way home when you’re exhausted from the sun and the swimming – perfect to enjoy right before a nap!
Some of the dishes that I used to make this way included stuffed tomatoes, traditional Greek roasted chicken with potatoes, and fish. But my favorite one was lamb with rice. This is actually one of my Grandmother Irene’s recipes, a dish that is best when served at room temperature and is perfect from spring (when lamb is at its finest) through the summer. Since I’ve moved to the USA, I’ve never prepared lamb this way, simply because lamb is just not the same. But I thought of using lamb shanks instead, which are soft and tender, and it turned out absolutely delicious! Of course, I did not take it to my local bakery for them to bake it … but it certainly brought back memories!
I like to prepare it in two steps, cooking the lamb a day ahead so that I can discard the fat. This also cuts the cooking time in half on the day I want to serve it. Try this recipe for yourself and … you’ll remember me (as they say in Greece!).
Ingredients for four:
- 4 – 6 lamb shanks
- 3 cups long grain rice
- 2 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- salt and pepper
The day before:
- Place the lamb shanks in a large cooking pot and add enough water to cover them completely, plus about two more cups.
- Bring to a boil and with a large spoon remove the foam that is creating on the top.
- Add salt and pepper and boil on medium heat, covered, for about 45 minutes to one hour or until the lamb is done and the meat separates from the bone.
- Let the lamb cool and refrigerate in the pot, as is, overnight.
On serving day:
- With a spoon, remove all the fat that has accumulated on the top of the pot and discard, but reserve the broth.
- Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
- Arrange the lamb shanks in a large and deep baking dish.
- Add the rice.
- Add the reserved boiled broth plus additional water, if needed, to make a total of 6 cups of liquid. Have some more hot liquid ready in case all the broth has been absorbed and the rice is not ready.
- Add the olive oil, the butter, salt and pepper.
- Add the tomatoes.
- Bake for about one hour or until the rice is done, checking in between, stirring the rice, adding salt and pepper, if needed, and covered for the first 30 minutes.
- Let sit for at least 20′ before serving.