I love cooking. When we go on vacation we rent apartments or houses rather than staying in hotels because I want to be able to cook the local foods. But, once in a while, I really appreciate someone else doing the cooking.
Yesterday my husband and I were driving back from Bath. My parents watched the kids so that we could get away for a long weekend. Although we 'took the waters', soaked, steamed and saunaed ourselves into malleable, relaxed oblivion (the kind of relaxation that you think- hope- will never go away), as we drove nearer to home and hit gridlock traffic I began to tense up. We wouldn't be arriving home until well into the evening now-- what would I cook for dinner?
As we pulled into the drive I was working out the Rubick's Cube in my mind of different pairings with the only food I knew we had in the cupboard, potatoes (Baked? Boiled? Sauteed? With cheddar, or butter? Maybe mashed...). We opened the kitchen door, threw our bags in and caught a wiff of something far better than boiled potatoes. My mom had made moussaka which was baking in the oven. She was there in the warm kitchen tossing an enormous Greek salad.
We sat down to dinner and it all tasted so good.
My mother has a friend from Greece. This is her recipe.
4 small eggplant (aubergine), washed, skin left on
4 large potatoes, washed, skin left on
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick)
3 and 1/2 tablespoons flour
2 and 3/4 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 regular (not large) container ricotta (I know, vague)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound minced (ground) beef or lamb (or use same amount chopped mushrooms for vegetarian)
2 tablespoons tomato puree (paste in US)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1) Pre-heat the oven to 350F (165F). Slice the eggplant (aubergine) and potatoes both lengthwise quite thin (about 1/2 inch). Spray a baking tray with non-stick spray, place the eggplant and potato slices on it and bake for just 15 minutes or until soft.
2) While the vegetables are baking, make the bechamel sauce. Gently melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Once it is frothy, sprinkle in the flour and stir continuously until it smells nutty, but is no more than golden in colour. Now pour in the milk and stir until thick. Sprinkle in the nutmeg. Remove from the heat and stir in the 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Now, whisk the 2 eggs in a separate bowl and slowly whisk them into the sauce- they will cook in the warmth of the sauce, but do not put the sauce back on the heat. Taste and season with salt.
Set aside until ready to assemble.
3) In a large saute pan heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add in the onion and garlic. Cook until soft then add in the mince beef or lamb or the chopped mushrooms. Cook until no longer pink, then lightly drain (if even necessary) and stir in the tomato puree (paste), oregano and thyme. Taste and season with sea salt and pepper. Set aside.
3) Grab a large casserole dish, 9" by 13" is good. Spray it with non-stick spray and layer in half of the potatoes and on top of that, layer in half of the eggplant and half of the meat or mushrooms. Spoon the entire container of ricotta over top and repeat the layer of potato, eggplant and meat or mushrooms. Finally, pour the bechamel sauce over top and sprinkle the 1/4 cup Parmesan. The moussaka may be made ahead and stashed in the refrigerator until ready to bake for up to one day.
Bake in a 375F (185C) preheated oven for 45-60 minutes. Covered the first half, the lid or foil removed for the last part of baking to create a golden top.