Saturday, May 22, 2010

mmmm Moussaka

Interesting enough our first meal in Singapore was the Greek dish Moussaka. Our Singapore host and cousins served it to us our first night there and we instantly liked it. Being in Asia, the layered meat and eggplant casserole was served with rice and we still liked it.

Motivated by a tub of feta cheese we had somehow obtained, we decided to take a stab at making the dish at home. Our cousins' recipe, as we found out from a copy left on the kitchen counter, was a very simplified recipe off the internet. We set out to find a more authentic version.

Moussaka is very labor intensive, but the end result is worth every multi-step part of this recipe. We prefer to always use fresh ingredients over canned or frozen, unless we froze it ourselves. So the prep work from the raw ingredients seems to be the most time consuming part, such as plucking, washing and drying the spinach; washing, cutting and roasting the eggplant; and peeling, slicing and seasoning the potatoes.

After the prep work is done comes the fun part. Sprinkle a layer of breadcrumbs at the bottom of a baking sheet (the bread crumbs helps prevents the potatoes from sticking to the bottom of the baking dish). The meticulously lay out the potato slices.

Then layer with the roasted and seasoned eggplant.

Then a layer of beef, tomato and onion ragu

Then yet another layer, this time steamed spinach covering as much of the top as possible.

If all of that weren't enough, prepare a cheese "custard" and pour all over the layered dish. We told you this is serious stuff!

Bake in the oven until the top turns golden brown and bubbly. We wish we had smell-o-vision right now.

The custard is unbelievably light and airy, adding mainly tang and tartness to the salty beef/ tomato/onion ragu. The potatoes and eggplant were starchy and the spinach add an earthy bitterness to the whole dish. Moussaka is worth all the labor and love. Make it for someone you love.

Moussaka recipe courtesy of Food Network Magazine

For the Casserole

- 3 large eggplants (about 4 pounds) cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick slices; brushed with olive oil, salt & pepper, bake in a 450 degree oven until soft (about 30 minutes)
- 1 large bunch of swiss chard (we used spinach because it was what we had)stems trimmed and wilted (4 minutes) in a heavy pot over medium-high heat in olive oil, salt & pepper. Transfert to a colander and let cool and drain of excess water
- 3 Tablespoons of butter
- 1 Medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground beef or lamb
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 Cup dry white wine
- 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained or fresh chopped tomatoes
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 Bay leaves
- 2 Tablespoons of dry breadcrumbs (we used panko because that's what we have
- 1 Medium all-purpose potato, peeled and thinly sliced

For Cheese Custard

- 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 Cup all-purpose flour
- 5 cups whole milk at room temperature
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups grated kefalotiri cheese or 1/2 cup grated parmisan mixed with 1 cup crumbed feta

- 2 large eggs plus 3 egg yolks

To make beef, tomato, onion ragu: heat 3 Tablespoons of butter in a dutch oven or heavy bottom pot. Add the onion and cook until golden brown (about 4 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the meat and break up into pieces and add in oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg and 2 teaspoons of salt and pepper to taste. Cook until meat is slightly browned (about 2 minutes). Add the wine and cook until the meat is slightly brown, but still pink on the inside (about 1 minute). Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, worchestershire sauce and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for about 30 minutes.

In a 9-by-11-inch baking dish sprinkle breadcrumbs on the bottom and top with sliced and seasoned potatoes.

While beef/tomato/onion ragu is cooking make the cheese custard.

In a medium heavy bottom pan melt 6 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook slightly to form a soft paste. Take off the heat and whisk in milk, nutmeg and 2 teaspooons of salt. Return to the heat and bring to boil, whisking constantly. Remove from heat again and add in only 1 cup of the cheese. Allow to cool a bit more and whisk in eggs and egg yolks.

Turn on oven to 350 degrees and begin to assemble the Moussaka for baking. Layer half of the eggplant on the potato/bread crumbs at the bottom of the baking dish. Cover with half of the meat sauce and half of the cook chard or spinach. Layer the other half of the eggplant, meat ragu and chard/spinach. Pour the cheese custard over the whole casserole and top with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.

Bake uncovered until the custard is set and lightly brown, about an hour. Let rest for 20 minutes before cutting and serving.


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