Monday, August 19, 2013

Comfort food for the wobbly: Moussaka

This is my new cookbook idea: comfort food for soon-to-be empty nesters. My daughter leaves in six days for college, and she's my youngest, and I'm dying. If you're going to be miserable, at least eat good food while you drink your wine! I cooked this last night for Minky & Chris, and there are leftovers tonight. It's ridiculously yummy and surprisingly comforting.

Moussaka with eggplant, zucchini & parsley

2lb ground lamb, or lamb & beef, or, at a pinch turkey
1 onion, finely chopped
2 large or 3 medium eggplant, sliced approx 1/3 inch
2 or 3 zucchini (whatever you have in the fridge), sliced diagonally
2 cloves of garlic, smushed
olive oil (I won't pretend, you need rather a lot)
1 medium tin chopped tomatoes (pref. san marzano)
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp allspice
fresh ground salt and pepper
5 tbsp flour
3 eggs beaten till frothy
freshly ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups ricotta

Moussaka is a classic Greek dish made famous in the seventies by people like my mama. Rather like a lasagna, but with layers of eggplant rather than pasta, and topped with a lovely eggy, ricotta-y bechamel and baked in the oven, it's heaven with a salad and some bread. It's also more-ish and wonderful when you're wobbly. This version also has zucchini, mostly because I needed to get rid of them. But you can experiment with your layers and add more vegetables as you wish. The cinnamon and allspice give it a Greek/Lebanese flavor. The Greeks don't use allspice like the Lebanese, but the taste of allspice with lamb makes me very happy, so I add it. To top it off, the nutmeggy bechamel is heaven. I will experiment with a vegetarian version of this dish, because I believe it could be done, and done rather well.

Also, some people are allergic to eggplant skin. If you're aware of this, peel the eggplants.

  • Peel eggplants, slice and lay on paper towels to sweat (not that they do much, but it's better than the whole salted palaver they put you through in 1979). Brown them in olive oil (yes they take a lot) and dry on paper towels. Ditto with the zucchini.
  • Cook onions in oil gently till they begin to brown. Throw in the smushed garlic, whoosh around.
  • Add the meat and let it brown. Meat is much less fatty lately and will need some breaking up with a wooden spoon/fork so you don't get lumps. (medium/medium high heat). Cook approx 8 minutes.
  • Add wine, parsley, cinnamon, tomatos, allspice, salt, pepper. Cook till liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat.
  • Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Make your bechamel/white sauce. Start with butter, add flour to make a roux, keep stirring, slowly add milk, bit by bit (it should be warm but I've found it doesn't really matter). If it starts bubbling ferociously, take it off the heat and give it a good whisk. Keep stirring. (My mother says you can tell a cook by his/her ability to make white sauce. The trick is in the wrist. That's what she said...)
  • Cool and add in the beaten eggs and ricotta. Season with salt, pepper, and plenty of freshly grated nutmeg (try not to grate your knuckles).
  • Grease a pan with butter or olive oil (square, round, your choice). Layer meat sauce and eggplant and zucchini. Top with bechamel. Remember to taste your meat sauce and your bechamel before cooking. They will take more salt than you think.
  • Bake for an hour (top should be golden delicious).
  • Remove from oven, cool a bit, serve. Be prepared for people wanting thirds.


Marcheline said...

Egads, this sounds like heaven!

Miss Whistle said...

@Marcheline I'm afraid it is ;) Not terribly good for the waistline, but you can always go for a run afterwards! xo

S said...

She is off to uni? Already? Oh my! I wish her all the very best. What wonderful news. Much love to you and to her x s

Z said...

I brush the aubergines with olive oil before cooking them nowadays, to keep control of how much they use. I'm very fond of moussaka, which I flavour with cinnamon but I haven't used allspice before so will give it a go.

Z said...

Oh - commiserations on the empty-nesting.