4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
5 1/2 pounds boned shoulder of lamb, trimmed of excess fat and cut into cubes about 1 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches
5 medium onions, sliced finely
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, minced
Leaves from 4 thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 bay leaves
2 carrots, peeled, halved lengthways, and then halved across
3 (14.5 ounces) cans diced tomatoes
1 1/4 cups lamb, beef stock or water
1 bottle dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ditalini or other small tubular pasta
2/3 pound feta cheese
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, oregano or basil leaves
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Into the largest saucepan or casserole you have that will go into the oven, pour 3 tablespoons of the oil. Brown the meat in batches over high heat and remove with a slotted spoon to a plate nearby. You may need more oil as you do this. The onions will certainly need it, so pour the remaining oil or add more, add the onions, sprinkling a little salt over them and cook then until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, celery, thyme, and oregano. After a couple of minutes or so, when the smell of garlic wafts up, remove half the mixture. Add the meat to the mixture in the pan, cover with the remaining half, add the bay leaves, carrots, tomatoes, stock and wine. I use a big but flattish casserole and this amount of liquid covers the meat, but if you find you need more liquid, add water- you want a lot of liquid, because you will, eventually, be cooking some pasta in it. Bring to a boil, remove scum, and let bubble for about 3 minutes. Then cover, transfer to the oven, and bake for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or cook on a very low heat. The meat should be tender and yielding. Remove the carrots (and eat, cook's treat) and bay leaves, too, if you want, and season, to taste, with the salt and pepper.
Of course you can proceed to the final stage now, but I am presuming you're not going to. In which case, let the stew cool and keep it in the refrigerator until you want it. Skim the fat off the top, and do remember to take it out of the refrigerator a good 1 to 2 hours before you cook it again. You can reheat this in the oven, but because the pasta will be put in on the stove, I tend to heat it there. Make sure the stew is piping hot. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. When it boils, add the salt and then pasta. Cook this until it's nearly but not quite cooked; it should have a couple of minutes still to go.
Then drain the pasta and add it quickly to the bubbling juices in the casserole, making sure first that there are enough bubbling juices. You don't want the meat to be drowned, but you want enough for the pasta to be covered. The pasta will absorb some of the liquid as it finishes cooking, of course.
In a couple of minutes, the pasta should be cooked. Crumble some feta and put in a bowl with the chopped parsley, oregano, or basil. Stir to combine and then leave the spoon with it, so that people can sprinkle the herb-spiked cheese over the stew as they wish. Ladle the stew into shallow soup bowls.