“The classic rendering of moussaka with its plush eggplant; dense, earthy potatoes; meat sauce that’s warmed by spices; and satiny béchamel lavished across the top, add up to cozy yet sumptuous festival food for indulging family and friends.” And who doesn’t like to do that every now and again?
Yes, there are many versions, but no matter how it is made, it is a bit of a project. Back in late December 2021, we opted to make a test recipe sent to us from America’s Test Kitchen. It featured a vegetable-forward moussaka, and after we made it we had to fill out a survey regarding the pluses and minuses of making and tasting the dish.
When the article was finally published in the September/October issue of Cook’s Illustrated (CI), the ingredients, and amounts of each hadn’t changed at all.
One issue we mentioned in the survey, was the placing all of the potatoes in the dish and then shingling them. It was cumbersome at best. And in the recent article, CI did not make any changes to that particular step. In our opinion, taken from experience, is to place the spud slices in another bowl, and then when cool enough to handle, start shingling them into the prepared casserole dish.
Here are some notes worth reading prior to making the dish:
→ *Kasseri is a semi firm sheep’s-milk cheese from Greece. If it’s unavailable, substitute a mix of 3 ounces (¾ cup) grated provolone cheese and 1 ½ ounces (¾ cup) grated Pecorino Romano.
→ We like the richness of whole milk for this dish, but you can substitute 2 percent low-fat milk, if desired. Do not use skim milk.
→ Using a mandoline makes quick work of slicing the potatoes.
→ To accommodate all the components, use a baking dish that is at least 2¼ inches tall.
Final verdict? Distinct layers of velvety-firm potatoes; eggplant that was plush and savory; concentrated, fragrant sauce; and béchamel that baked up like a creamy, cheesy cloud! So find an afternoon and treat yourself…
- 3 ½ lbs. eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- ½ cup, plus 2 tsp., plus 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 tsp. table salt, divided
- ¾ teaspoon pepper, divided
- 1 ½ lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled, sliced crosswise ¼-inch thick
- 1 Tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- ½ tsp. table salt
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 2 tsp. paprika
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
- ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 lb. 80 percent lean ground beef
- 1 (14.5-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
- 6 Tbsp.unsalted butter
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2½ cups whole milk
- 4 oz. Kasseri* cheese, shredded (1 cup)
- ¼ tsp. table salt
- ⅛ tsp. ground nutmeg
- 3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
- FOR THE VEGETABLES: Adjust oven racks to middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 450 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil spray. Divide eggplant evenly among baking sheets. Toss each batch with ¼ cup oil, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, until evenly coated and spread eggplant into single layer. Roast until eggplant is softened and lightly browned, about 30 minutes, switching and rotating pans halfway through cooking. Transfer baking sheets to wire racks to cool. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees.
- While eggplant is cooking, grease 13 by 9-inch baking dish with 2 teaspoons oil. In medium bowl, toss potatoes with remaining 3 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cover and microwave until potatoes can be easily pierced with tip of paring knife, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring halfway through microwaving. Transfer potatoes, along with any accumulated liquid, to prepared baking dish and let rest until cool enough to handle, 15 minutes. Shingle evenly in baking dish.
- FOR THE MEAT SAUCE: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally until just starting to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and stir constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until paste darkens, about 2 minutes. Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits from pan. Add paprika, oregano, pepper flakes, and cinnamon, and cook, stirring frequently until wine is almost completely evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Add beef, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, breaking up pieces with spoon, until no pink remains, 4 to 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has almost completely evaporated and spoon leaves trail when dragged through sauce, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in vinegar, cover, and remove from heat.
- FOR THE BÉCHAMEL: Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook until golden, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is thick, smooth, and comes to boil, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Whisk in cheese, ¼ teaspoon salt, and nutmeg. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk in egg yolks and cover to keep warm.
- LAYERING: Cover potatoes with eggplant, lightly pressing into even layer. Spread meat sauce in even layer over eggplant. Top with Bechamel.
- Bake on middle rack until top of moussaka is deeply browned in spots and is bubbling at edges, about 30 minutes. Let cool 30 minutes before serving.
Original recipe from America’s Test Kitchen