Lemony Roast Leg of Lamb with Orzo

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Given a mix of cultural backgrounds, our Easter dinner table has flipped between ham and lamb. I recently posted an awesome retro recipe inspired by Will Roger’s brown-sugar ham-baked-in-a-crust, so now it’s time to give you an equally delicious lamb recipe. Telly Savalas, known best for his ’70s television tough-cop, Kojak, spoke to United Airlines’ Mainliner magazine in 1974 of his childhood memories of Greek feasts prepared by his mother and aunts. One of his favorites from their repertoire? Lemony leg of lamb. Stuffed with garlic and basted with lemon, the meat takes on a mahogany hue as it roasts. We’ve tested Telly’s family recipe  and updated it just a bit so that you can serve it with a tomatoey orzo, or, one spiked with preserved lemon.

Makes 8 servings


  • 6 1/2 lb leg of lamb
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tsp dried oregano or 3 tsp snipped fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 2 large or 3 small lemons)
  • 2 medium onions, sliced very thin
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 pound orzo pasta
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree (optional)
  • 2 tsp slivered preserved lemon (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 450. Cut garlic cloves into slivers. With the tip of sharp knife, cut incisions on the fat side of the meat, shoving slivers of garlic into each cut. Sprinkle salt, pepper and oregano over meat and rub in with hands.
  2. Place leg of lamb, fat side up, on a rack in a large shallow roasting pan and cook, uncovered, in 450 degree oven for 20 minutes.
  3. Reduce heat to 350. Lift lamb on rack out of pan. Scatter thin-sliced onions in bottom of pan. Place lamb on rack back into pan. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp of the lemon juice over the meat. Close oven and roast for 15 minutes. Add another Tbsp of lemon juice, dribbling over meat. Pour the boiling water into the bottom of the roasting pan over the onions.
  4. Roast lamb for another hour to 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees, depending on desired degree of doneness, basting every 15 minutes with the rest of the lemon juice.
  5. Meanwhile, during the last 1/2 hour of roasting, cook orzo in boiling, salted water over medium heat on your range top, according to package instructions. Drain orzo. Set aside.
  6. When lamb is done, remove to a platter and let rest at room temperature. Pour off fat from roasting pan and discard fat. Here you have a choice: If you want to go with the tomato orzo, stir tomato puree into  remaining meat juices and onions. Add cooked orzo, mix again and return to oven for ten minutes. OR if you want to go with the lemony orzo: Add cooked orzo to the meat and lemon juices and onions. Stir in two teaspoons of slivered preserved lemons and bake for 10 minutes. Serve orzo mounded under leg of lamb on serving platter.

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