Orzo with muttchetta, cavelo nero and sprout tops

quick phone snap of muttony comfort food before it was wolfed down

quick phone snap of muttony comfort food before it was wolfed down

I’ve been all over the country recently, I was at the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC in Birmingham last Wednesday then straight off to Cornwall to The Scarlet Hotel and Spa and the beautiful Tregothnan Tea Estate, posts about all of that coming soon but it has meant I’ve been snowed under catching up with work since I returned.

Yesterday I found myself sat at my computer at 4pm, freezing cold as I’d not lit the fires, in the dark as I’d been concentrating so much I hadn’t realised the night had arrived and most importantly, ravenously hungry as I’d still not had breakfast. This called for something quick, comforting and nutritious.

This dish is wonderfully comforting, the deep, sweet muttony flavour from the mutchetta coats every grain of orzo and the greens are delicately steamed to retain all their flavour, colour and texture. It’s a bit of a joy this dish and I’ll be making it over and over again.

Orzo with muttchetta, cavelo nero and sprout tops:

  • 1 handful diced muttchetta
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 handfuls orzo
  • hot chicken stock, enough to cover the orzo with about 5mm extra
  • 2 handfuls chopped cavelo nero, tough ends of stalks removed
  • 1 sprout top roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper
  1. Gently fry the muttchetta in a dry pan, it will release its lovely flavourful fat and when it starts to crisp add the onions and garlic. Stir to get everything coated in the muttchetta fat and cook until softened.
  2. Add the orzo, give it a good stir then pour in the hot stock. Cover with a tight lid, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook for 4 minutes, no stirring!
  3. Scatter the cavelo nero and sprout tops over the orzo and recover with the lid, allow to steam for a further 4 minutes, still no stirring!
  4. Remove lid and stir, the orzo may have formed a bit of a crust at the bottom of the pan, this is a good thing in my book, like the crust on the bottom of a well made paella.
  5. Season with salt and pepper and dive in.

How to make mutton bacon (macon) and mutton panchetta (muttchetta)

mutton panchetta

Out of the cure and up to hang

I love bacon, when dry cured and smoked by someone that cares it can be classed as medicinal. Many a hangover has been soothed and staunch vegetarian has been broken by some well loved bacon. I also love mutton, that deep extra “lambiness” of an animal that has spent a good couple of years gently grazing on good British grass can’t be beaten. Great mutton needs to be hung for a good three weeks though in my opinion so that it becomes tender, then you can cook it pink as you would lamb or hogget.

The highlight of my day was discovering how kickass the cured mutton breast was. Deep, intense mutton flavour with a sweet saltiness and full of the aromas, just wonderful and completely addictive.

I’ve recently returned from spending time at the amazing new countryside skills and cookery school that is Vale House Kitchen near Bath. I really can’t recommend this place enough, they teach everything from fly fishing and how to prepare, cook and smoke your catch to game shooting and its cookery, foraging, bread making, the works. I wrote about them for Metro  and I fell in love with it so much (do give it a read and you’ll see why I love them so!) I’m heading back soon to learn how to shoot, yep me with a gun, bring it on!

Me with the font of food knowledge that is Tim Maddams

Me with the font of food knowledge that is Tim Maddams

Anyway, whilst at Vale House I spent some time with their head tutor Tim Maddams who you will probably know from the River Cottage programmes. After our day spent trout fishing and smoking he then prepped a loin of pork to be turned into bacon and IT WAS SO EASY. I’ve been asking my lovely butchers at Derek Jones in Melton for a while now about getting in another mutton so I can make some mutton bacon, they wait until enough people ask then get one in and divide it up between anyone that has bagsied a bit. I popped in the other day to say “Hi” as I’d been away for weeks only to be told that they had 2 mutton breasts set aside for me for my mutton bacon experiment. Ace, it was serendipity and I was off!


Two breasts of mutton, deboned came to around £4 as it’s just £1.50/kg, another reason why this is bloody brilliant. For the cure I opted for roughly equal sugar to salt, I went with a mix of dark brown and light brown sugar as that’s what I had on the shelves. Herbs and spices wise I had left the fennel in the garden to go to seed and that needed cutting back so that mixed with various bits and pieces from the pantry was all I needed.


  • 2 deboned breasts of mutton, total weight 2.4kg
  • 1.4kg salt
  • 750g dark brown muscovado sugar
  • 600g light brown soft sugar
  • 1 handful juniper berries, very lightly squeezed to open
  • 1 heaped tablespoon green cardamom pods (lightly crushed just to open)
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • stalks, trimmings and fronds of some fresh fennel from the garden
  • 2 tablespoons peppercorns
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
  • 1 sprig rosemary lightly bruised with a pestle to release oils
  • 1 small bunch fresh sage leaves lightly bruised with a pestle

From left: the base layer of cure, after day 1, morning of Day 3


  1. Combine all the cure ingredients together in a big bowl.
  2. Thoroughly wash and dry the salad tray from the bottom of your fridge, yeah move those salad leaves and vegetables aside and clear the way for MEAT. Put a layer of cure mix in the bottom.
  3. Place one of the breasts on top and squish down. Cover with a layer of cure then put the other one on top and press down. Cover with another layer of cure so it’s completely covered. Don’t use all the cure mix though.
  4. Place in the fridge overnight. The following day pour off any liquid, flip the breasts around and rub more cure into any nooks and crannies, sprinkle more cure over.
  5. Repeat this the following day.
  6. On day 3 I felt the breasts were ready. They are only thin and they had firmed up nicely, if you have thick ones then you may need an extra day before this step. Rinse off the cure and pat dry. You now have mutton bacon, or macon. Fry a bit off and BEHOLD ITS AWESOMENESS.
  7. Weigh each piece and make a note of the weight. You can simply keep it as is and store in the fridge to cook as you please, as they are big I’d recommend cutting into portions and vac packing/freezing it to use as needed. I have however decided to make muttchetta so am air drying until they lose 30% of their weight. I’ve hung them in a cool place and will be keeping an eye on the weight loss until they reach 30%. I’ll let you know how I get on.

From left: rinsing off the cure, hanging the cured breasts, side view, cooking up some to try

The highlight of my day has been discovering how kickass the cured mutton breast was. Deep, intense mutton flavour with a sweet saltiness and full of the aromats, just wonderful and completely addictive. I’m hooked now, well and truly, I wouldn’t be surprised if over the coming weeks I attempt to cure EVERYTHING I can find. Watch this space.