Moussaka

Beloved by Greeks and non-Greeks alike, this hearty casserole is one of the best things you’ll ever eat. Like most good things, Moussaka takes time to make, but it feeds a crowd. Plus, leftovers are a treat. In other words, not a week night meal if everyone is still working—as is the case in our house…

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A hearty casserole, Moussaka features layers of eggplant and potatoes topped with a savory, tomatoey meat sauce and a creamy-yet-light béchamel that’s baked until browned and bubbly. One bite, and you swoon because the layers have melded together to create an incredibly delicious, comforting dish.

So after all of those easy one-pan meals I recently blogged about, this recipe was certainly more labor-intensive. But it was a perfect project for us both on a cool Sunday afternoon with the Eagles football game playing on TV in the background (and both of our teams, the Eagles and Steelers won!) So grab yourself a cooking buddy when you attempt this recipe—they’ll find it is well worth the effort in the end. We think of it as a lighter take on a lasagna because it has no pasta and very little cheese.

Our changes included using ground lamb, a more traditional Moussaka ingredient, instead of ground beef. We upped the quantity of meat from 1 pound to 1 1/2 pounds—and next time we’ll incorporate 2 pounds of meat. The recipe calls for one tablespoon of tomato paste but we added closer to three. In addition, with Russ eliminating wheat from his diet, we used a gluten-free product in place of the flour. Obviously it makes way too much for just two people, but we had leftovers AND we froze a large portion for a future meal.

Step-by-Step Tutorial (recipe follows)

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C
hopping onion and slicing eggplant.

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Salted eggplant draining in colander over sink.

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Rinsed eggplant drying on towel.

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Sautéeing onion in olive oil.

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Cooking ground lamb with the sautéd onion.

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Adding the chopped parsley, diced tomato and tomato paste to the meat and onion mixture.

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Frying the potato slices.

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Potato slices cool and get a sprinkle of salt.

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Layering the potato slices on top of each other in a greased pan.

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The next overlapping layer is the cooked eggplant slices.

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The third layer is the meat and onion mixture.

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Finishing the béchamel sauce with a brisk whisk.

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Pouring the béchamel over the layers.

For the meat sauce
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped (about 2-1/2 cups)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. 80% lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
For the eggplant
  • 3 lb. eggplant (about 2 medium or 5 to 6 baby eggplant), trimmed and sliced crosswise about 1/4 inch thick
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
For the potatoes
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium russet potatoes (about 2-1/2 lb.), rinsed and dried
  • Kosher salt
For the béchamel
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 2-1/4 oz. (1/2 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 oz. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino romano (1/2 cup)
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg; more to taste
  • Kosher salt
Make the meat sauce

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, a generous pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 5 to 8 minutes.

Turn the heat up to medium high. Add the beef, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up the meat, until browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the wine; turn the heat down to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, parsley, tomato paste, and nutmeg, and stir to combine. Turn the heat down to low and gently simmer to meld the flavors, stirring once or twice, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Salt the eggplant

Cover the bottom and sides of a large colander with a single layer of the eggplant slices and sprinkle generously with salt. Top with more layers of eggplant, salting each layer until you run out of slices. Let sit in the sink or over a large bowl for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Pan-fry the potatoes
  1. Heat the oil in a heavy-duty 12-inch skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium heat until shimmering hot (about 375°F).
  2. Meanwhile, slice the potatoes crosswise into 1/4-inch rounds, discarding the end slices.
  3. Working in batches, slide 10 to 15 potato slices into the hot oil in a single layer. Fry, flipping once, until the potatoes are tender, about 4 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined tray and gently blot off the excess oil. Lightly season with salt. Repeat with the remaining potatoes.
Roast the eggplant
  1. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Rinse the eggplant in cold water to remove excess salt. Press the slices between paper towels or clean kitchen towels to dry, then arrange them in a single layer on 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Lightly brush both sides of each slice with the olive oil and lightly season both sides with salt and pepper. Roast, flipping once, until tender and lightly browned, 30 to 35 minutes total.
Make the béchamel
  1. Heat the milk in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat until steaming; set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until golden, about 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and then simmer gently, whisking, until the raw flour taste is gone and the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to low and gradually whisk in the eggs; whisk vigorously to combine. Remove from the heat.
  3. Set aside 1 Tbs. of the cheese for assembly, and add the remaining cheese to the sauce, along with the nutmeg and 1 tsp. salt; whisk until smooth. Season to taste with more salt and nutmeg.
Assemble and bake
  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a 9×13-inch baking dish.
  2. Arrange the potatoes in an even layer on the bottom of the dish, overlapping the slices like shingles. Sprinkle evenly with 1 tsp. of the reserved cheese.
  3. Arrange the eggplant slices as you did the potatoes, and evenly sprinkle with 1 tsp. of the remaining cheese. Spread the meat sauce in an even layer on top of the eggplant. Pour the béchamel over the meat sauce and spread in an even layer. Evenly sprinkle with the remaining 1 tsp. cheese.
  4. Bake until the top is golden brown, 50 to 60 minutes. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Make Ahead Tips
  1. You can make the meat sauce up to 2 days ahead and refrigerate it, or freeze it for up to 3 months.
  2. You can refrigerate an unbaked moussaka for up to 24 hours. Let it come to room temperature before baking. Or freeze it for up to three months. Defrost it in the refrigerator overnight, and let it come to room temperature before baking.

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After reading all this, you’re probably mumbling “No way!” but believe me when I tell you, it is worth every minute of prep!

by Christina Pelekanos from Fine Cooking

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