Last week I took the time to cook something from my pre-parenting days. I was enjoying the mindful parenting/working epiphany that came by way of my internet vacation, and was mulling what to do with the copious amount of eggplant and potato from our CSA share. My first thought? The moussaka from Nick Stellino's Mediterranean Flavors.
First, I should say that I love Stellino's book. I have made (and happily gobbled) things from every single chapter (impressive given the number of cookbooks I own that include only a couple of dog eared pages). The ingredient lists of some recipes may intimate due to length (lots of little spices), but the results are well worth it. Normally I post quick recipes here, but I deemed this dish post-worthy for the following reasons: 1) the end result is fantastic; 2) we had leftovers for several days so the dish actually saved us cooking time through the week; and 3) Laurel thought it smelled so good that she actually decided to try it. And she ate a whole piece. Laurel definitely has been more adventurous with food of late, but for a kid who largely has subsised on simple flavors such as mac n' cheese, brown rice, chicken, cucumber, etc., this was a big deal.
So without further ado, here is the recipe; perhaps you could give it a go this long weekend? I'll include the original recipe, but have made notes in parentheses.
Nick Stellino's Moussaka
1. Cut eggplants crosswise into ½ inch thick slices. Sprinkle with 1 ½ tsp salt and stack in a colander. Place a plate on top to weight it down and drain 20 minutes. Pat slices dry with paper towels and set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Brush two nonstick baking sheets and both slides of the eggplant with 3 Tbl olive oil (I went light here; didn't measure, just enough to coat). Place slices in a single layer on the baking sheets and cook for 25 minutes, until lightly browned; set aside.
3. Heat 2 Tbl remaining olive oil in a large sauté pan set on high heat (I did this on our double burner griddle so I could cook in bigger batches). Add potatoes, sprinkle with ¼ tsp of salt and ¼ tsp of peper and cook until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer potatoes to a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, spreading evenly. Set aside.
4. Heat remaining olive oil in the same pan (I did drag out a sauté pan here) set on high heat. Add ground meat and cook 6-7 minutes, until browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer browned meat to a bowl and drain all but 2 Tbl of fat from the pan. Return the pan to high heat and cook onion, garlic, bay leaves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, thyme, and remaining salt and pepper for 3 minutes. Return browned meat to pan and cook 1 minute. Stir in wine and cook until reduced by half, about 1-2 minutes. Add tomato sauce and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. To assemble: arrange half the eggplant slices over the potatoes in the baking dish. Top with meat sauce and then with remaining eggplant. Spread béchamel sauce evenly over the top and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 45 minutes until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool 10-15 minutes. Serves 8 (or you could do 10 smaller slices).
(I made this after I finished step 4 --during the 10 minute window while I was waiting for the sauce to thicken/reduce.)
1. In a saucepan set on medium heat, warm milk until steaming (I simply heated the milk in a large measuring cup in the microwave). In another saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk flour into melted butter to form a thick paste or roux. Continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Do not let the flour brown. Remove pan from heat.
2. Add nutmeg to hot milk, then pour, a little at a time, into the warm roux, whisking to prevent lumps. When all the milk has been added, return the pan to medium heat and continue whisking until the sauce thickens, about 3-5 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit more milk; if it is too thin, cook a little longer. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside until ready to use.
Note: You may prepare the sauce up to 2 hours ahead of time. Just rub the surface with a piece of butter to prevent a skin from forming and the sauce drying out.
Image credit: Christine Koh (the last piece of moussaka standing)