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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Moussaka, at Last

I made a really good moussaka once when I lived in Astoria, the Greek neighborhood in Queens, and I haven't made it again because I couldn't remember what recipe I used (if any) and none of the ones in my books seemed right. I got a gorgeous eggplant from the tomato-and-corn farm the other day, so I tried to re-create the 1996 version from memory. This was close, but I'm not sure what it needs to make it just like the other one, so I'll post the recipe here for future reference. Still, it's pretty good. The bug sure liked it as a third course for her lunch today following an entire ear of corn that she ate off the cob all by herself and a bowl of brown rice cereal, plums, and blackberries that she ate with a spoon—she refuses to let us feed her anymore, and to be fair she doesn't really need our help getting food in her mouth: today she crawled into the back of a cupboard and found a half box of crackers and proceeded to eat them (and she gave the dogs a few).

There are three parts to moussaka: sliced vegetables (here eggplant and potato, but you can also use zucchini or yellow squash, or any combination), a tomato sauce (here with lamb, but you could certainly use beef or venison or leave the meat out altogether), and a béchamel. I had leftover cooked lamb that I'd food-processed and frozen, but you could use fresh ground lamb or beef: cook it in the skillet before you cook the onions, and drain off the excess fat; add the onions and garlic, and proceed with the sauce.


4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large eggplant
Salt and black pepper
1 1/2 onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
About 2 cups finely shredded cooked lamb
2 (14.5-ounce) cans tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Handful of fresh mint, parsley, and oregano, chopped
2 large baking potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 egg
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup grated firm cheese, such as Gruyère (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use 2 tablespoons of the oil to generously oil two baking sheets. Peel the eggplant and thinly slice it into rounds. Arrange the slices on the baking sheets, then flip them over so that both sides of the slices have a bit of oil on them. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Roast for about 10 minutes, until light golden brown and soft. Set aside.

Make the meat sauce: Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes, until soft but not browned. Add the lamb, tomatoes, cinnamon, cloves, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary—it should be well seasoned. Stir in the herbs and remove from the heat.

Peel and thinly slice the potatoes into rounds. With the remaining oil, oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (I used an 8 1/2-by-11-inch dish and had stuff leftover to half-fill a 9-inch square pan). Arrange a layer of potatoes in the bottom of the dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with a thick layer of meat sauce, then a layer of roasted eggplant, followed by a thin layer of meat sauce, then potatoes, and so on, ending with a layer of eggplant. Set the casserole aside.

Make the béchamel: In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the flour and cook for about 3 minutes, until smooth and very light golden. Remove from the heat and immediately pour in the milk, whisking constantly. Return to the heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thick and smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the egg. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and stir in the cheese, if using (I used some leftover grated mozzarella—or mootzadell, as they say on the show we're watching now while we wait impatiently for season 4 of The Wire to be released on DVD—but a Swiss-type cheese would be better).

Pour the béchamel over the top of the casserole, to completely cover it. Bake for I forget how long—maybe an hour or so, until lightly browned on top and the potatoes are soft. Let the moussaka sit for a while before scooping out squares of it. I made this in the morning, let it cool, stuck it in the fridge, then reheated it in the evening, and it didn't suffer too much. Cover with foil, put in the oven, set the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and heat for about 45 minutes, uncovering for the last 15.
This afternoon we set up a new pool in the yard (the first one was punctured, probably by the neighbors' cat, which I saw draped over one side of it). The bug had a grand time. The city pools are closed or on much-reduced hours now that it's August, but it sure feels like summer to me.

Here she was meticulously putting sunscreen (and rubbing it in) on each magnolia leaf.

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