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Moussaka (Mom's recipe with short-cuts)
Posted on January 26 2016,
Moussaka is a mainstay in a Greek cook's repertoire and each cook brings their own style to this classic dish. Too often, people don't attempt the dish because it can be tedious to prepare, especially having to fry up all the eggplant slices; kind of messy with inconsistent results.
My mom showed me a few important "shortcuts" that have made it so much easier to prepare the dish. First, instead of frying the vegetables, it's way better to roast them in the oven. In addition, to avoid the sometimes soggy consistency that may occur if the eggplant and zucchini (if you are using both) aren't allowed to "sweat" sufficiently, we use plain breadcrumbs, sparingly but strategically, for always perfect results. (See the recipe for details.) And finally, and this a huge one, when preparing the Bechamel, heat the milk before adding to the roux and, ta-da!, no lumps.
(Moussaka actually tastes even better the next day and keeps in the fridge for up to three days.)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) - approximately 4 - 5 tablespoons
2 slender to medium sized eggplants
1 green zucchini
3 lbs ground lamb, beef or turkey (if using turkey, make sure not to use turkey breast only, it is too lean for this recipe)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick (approximately 3 inches long)
6 whole allspice
28 oz. canned, chopped tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup grated graviera or Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
ground black pepper to taste
flour for dusting vegetables
1/2 cup of plain breadcrumbs
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 quart whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Peel and trim the eggplant, trim and scrub the zucchini and cut all vegetables into slices about a third of an inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and set aside for 15-30 minutes to drain. Heat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush the parchment paper with extra virgin olive oil.
Rinse the vegetables and pat lightly with towels then dip in flour and place on baking sheets. Drizzle and gently brush with olive oil and place in the top third of your oven. Roasting time varies but, generally, depending on your oven, should take approximately 15 to 20 minutes in total but you may have to flip the veggies about 3/4 of the way through.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add ground lamb or beef (if using turkey, you will want to add some EVOO as it may not be fatty enough to brown properly). Once the meat is browned, drain all the liquid that gathers in the skillet, add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, allspice, tomatoes, wine and tomato paste. Simmer uncovered for 30-35 minutes. Sauce should have very little liquid when done.
Fish out the bay leaves, cinnamon stick and allspice then set aside.
Pour 2 tablespoons of EVOO into a deep casserole dish and brush to cover bottom and sides completely. Arrange eggplant slices first, overlapping slightly, (depending on the size of your dish you will have more than one layer), then scatter the zucchini on top.
Sprinkle the vegetables with 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs and then with the 1/2 cup of cheese. It should look something like this:
Gently pour the sauce over the vegetables and smooth with the back of a spoon. (Sorry for the shadow in the next photo... But you get the idea.)
Set the dish aside and prepare the Bechamel. Here's the other shortcut that will make this dish that much easier to prepare. Before you begin the Bechamel, bring the milk to just short of a simmer. Remove from the burner and cover. Then, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan then stir in the flour and cook until the mixture bubbles for 30 seconds or so. Stir constantly so it doesn't stick. Pour the heated milk into the saucepan, all at once and simmer, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in salt, nutmeg, and pepper.
The sauce should be quite thick and have a silky texture.
Whisk the eggs in a small bowl. Very slowly add about two cups of the sauce to the eggs to gently temper them. Whisk the egg mixture into the sauce and then pour the Bechamel over the meatsauce. Smooth with the back of a spoon, sprinkle with a little ground nutmeg and remaining 1/4 cup of cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the sauce is a golden color. It is best to let the dish sit for 30 minutes before cutting.