Manestra is pure comfort food in a bowl.
When I lived in Athens, I would often make my way to the central market in the early morning hours and indulge in a steaming bowl of hearty Manestra.
The meat and produce stalls had all closed up by that time of night/morning. However, an enticing aroma would be wafting through the market’s corridors. I would follow my nose and finally arrive at a few food stalls serving the most rustic of dishes. They sat in bubbling vats on display behind a glass counter. I would always choose this. It immediately would conjure up childhood memories of my yiayia’s food because she would also cook a version of this for me. And its stick-to-your-bones goodness would stave off any hangovers and fortify me for the day ahead.
What is Manestra?
Manestra is a humble one-pot dish common throughout Greece. At its most simple, it’s just orzo (the Greeks call it kitharaki) in tomato sauce. But it’s so satisfying at the same time! You can make that sauce from tomato paste or with canned or fresh tomatoes (wait until they’re in season). Additionally, you can dress it up and make it heartier with a little chicken or other meat. That’s what I’ve done here, because that’s how I remember eating it. Throw in a little oregano and salty cheese like parmesan, romano, or kefalotiri, and you are good to go!
This Manestra recipe comes out more like a stew, but you can always add extra water or tomatoes to make it more soupy. It all depends on how you want to eat it. Don’t underestimate the starch from the orzo though. It will really thicken up. If you have leftovers to reheat, add a little water to loosen it up when you do.
Also, you can use any type of chicken. Chicken breasts, chicken thighs, chicken legs all work. You could also sub in another type of meat, or leave it out all together.