We love Matt’s recipes, they’re easy and different. And while he’s the cravated sophisticate dispensing kind advice on Masterchef, he also seems a bloke who loves cooking for his family, telling funny stories and who licks the cream off the beater or his sticky fingers!
From: Matt Preston Cook Book – 187 Recipes to make you incredibly popular!
Published by Pan Macmillan.
The heady smell of oregano always takes me back to a summer I once spent in the Cyclades.
I had paid a peppercorn rent for a small hut in an olive grove. It had a lock and an old metal bed and not much more. We washed from the large cistern at one end, our nights lit only by the moon, and when we cooked, we cooked over a small fireplace on old olivewood that spat and hissed.
The grove sat a little way back from the beach, up in the hills above the little village. There were only three ways into the village. By boat, by foot, or, if you were posh, you could take a donkey along the stony goat track that wound 8km from the only road on the island and along the course of a dry riverbed lined with large bushes of wild oregano past my hut.
Back then, Vathi was a simple place of two tavernas, a blue-domed, white-washed church and a handful of houses perched on a rocky bay that was a perfect protected anchorage. It was quiet until mid-morning, when the tiny, ancient ferry from the ugly port belched its way into the bay carrying ice and chattering Scandinavian backpackers.
Early in the evening the smell of lamb cooking over coals, doused with wild oregano, would snake across the beach carriedon wispy fingers of smoke – each local taverna competing for the custom of the backpackers who had stayed to bathe in those last rays, or for the yachties rolling into the bay enjoying the sunset. It was the most persuasive of all adverts.
Each night we’d share a plate, my blonde Norwegian and I, in one tavern or the other. The achingly slow-cooked and tan-crusted meat always fell apart in strands like a fraying rope, each piece laced with fresh lemon and another big fresh handful of oregano. The herb was everywhere: on the salad of soft local goat’s cheese with fat tomatoes and black olives, and thrown like a green blizzard over the chunks of cooled cucumber that came with the inevitable ouzo.
It was always a long dinner, the meat punctuated with endless backgammon and broken Greek; by laugher and music, always music. Careening, whirling tunes of love, loss and goat prices played on a cracked-cased old bouzouki by a man with a face as brown and scrunched as a walnut.
Sometimes we danced, close or wild, and then later, in the dark, we’d walk home up the dry river bed, lips and fingers sticky with lamb fat, brushing against those wild oregano bushes, so we’d arrive home with our clothes and bodies richly perfumed by the herb.
- 500 g Greek yoghurt
- 1 cup chopped oregano, plus another couple of branches for dressing
- 2 lemons
- 50 g ground coriander
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1.5 kg boned, butterflied lamb shoulder (ask your butcher to peel off the tough outer bark to reveal the milky fat beneath)
- 100 ml olive oil
- 80 ml white wine vinegar
- salt flakes
- 8 ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks
- 1 large red onion, finely diced
- 1 cup pitted black olives
- 100 g feta, crumbled
- 2 cucumbers, skin on, kept in the coldest part of the fridge
- 250 ml (1 cup) ouzo, plus more to drink
Blitz the yoghurt with the oregano, the zest and juice of one of the lemons, the ground coriander and the garlic. Slather the marinade on the lamb shoulder then cover and leave it to marinate in the fridge overnight or up to 24 hours.
Preheat your oven so it’s really hot. 200°C should do it.
Remove the lamb from the marinade, but leave on any oregano paste that is clinging to it. Place the lamb on a metal rack over a roasting pan, drizzle on half the olive oil and pop it in the oven. Blast with heat for 30 minutes.
Add 180 ml water and the vinegar to the pan. Now turn the oven down to 150°C and leave the lamb alone for 3–4 hours. If it needs a little crisping up on the outside you can grill the top for 5–10 minutes.
When the meat is cooked, and by cooked I mean crusty on the outside and falling apart in the middle, pull it out and leave it to rest for at least 15 minutes covered in a sheet of foil, with some old copies of newspaper on top, to retain the heat.
To serve, place the lamb on a large wooden board and shred the meat from the shoulder so it falls in shards across the board. Season with salt flakes. Now sprinkle the lamb with the tomato chunks (complete with seeds), red onion, black olives and more oregano leaves. Squeeze over the juice of the second lemon, scatter over the feta, and drizzle on the rest of the oil.
Place on the table along with the cucumber (freshly cut into batons straight from the fridge) dunked into four small glasses of ouzo. Share. Dance. Live.