Monday, June 16, 2008


Moussaka, prepared properly, is a time-consuming dish. The version I made yesterday was not proper. My use of pork and beef mince, rather than lamb, was just one of the inauthentic touches. For 4. (Or, in our case, 3.)

2 medium-to-large aubergines, cut into rounds the thickness of 2 £1 coins
Olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
200g beef mince
200g pork mince
1 bay leaf
1/2 chicken stock cube
2tsp tomato puree
3dstsp plain flour
35g butter, or enough to make a roux with the flour
300ml milk
1 egg, beaten
2tbsp Parmesan or Pecorino

Pour some olive oil into a saucer. Dip in a fork, and brush the aubergine rounds with the back of it. Place them in a roasting tin or on a baking sheet. Season with salt, and with pepper if you like. (You may, as I did, need a second tin or sheet; place it in the oven below the first one, and transfer it to the top shelf when the first batch is ready.) Bake at gas mark 6/200C for 20 to 30 minutes, until soft. (This is a far easier method of cooking aubergines than frying.)

Make a simple stew. Soften the onions and garlic in about 2tbsps of olive oil, over a gentle heat, for a few minutes. Throw in the beef and pork mince, and keep stirring. It will separate as it sheds moisture and the fat runs. Add the bay leaf, the half stock cube (I use Knorr), and the tomato puree. (I also added a drop of fish sauce, and a few splashes of soy sauce -- as I said, the recipe was inauthentic.) Season, and cook for about 10 more minutes. The meat should have produced enough liquid to stop it sticking.

I do not add any more liquid. Here (and in a lasagne), I like the stew to be moist but not runny. If I had been cooking for adults only, I would have been tempted to pour in about 200mls of red wine, and to cook the stew very gently until most of the liquid had evaporated. If there had been stock in the fridge, I would have used that instead of the cube: again, gently cooking it to evaporate it and concentrate the flavour.

Make a thick bechamel. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the flour, and stir it in. The roux should have the consistency of wet sand. Cook it for a minute. Pour in the milk gradually, stirring to incorporate each portion before adding the next. Let the sauce bubble for a minute or two, stirring constantly, then turn off the heat. You want a thick, almost pasty consistency. When the sauce has cooled a little, stir in the egg. (After baking, the sauce should puff up.) You could season the bechamel with nutmeg as well as salt.

Assemble the moussaka in a gratin dish. I started with a layer of stew, followed by aubergines, followed by the rest of the stew, followed by the rest of the aubergines; I poured the sauce on top, and scattered over the Parmesan. Bake at gas mark 6/200C for 30 minutes, or until the top is brown and everything is bubbling.

Moussaka is delicious if served warm, rather than piping hot. Here is a vegetarian version.

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