23 May 2018

Best ever Moussaka - with a little bit of help!

Now, before going any further, if you've come here looking for the original version of my recipe for Moussaka and are aghast to find it has been replaced by this one - do let me know and I will reinstate it.  You see, in my opinion, this new recipe is such a totally different kettle o' lamb deliciousness, it quite outstrips the old recipe.  Although, having said that, this recipe carries an awful lot of the previous incarnation along with it - just with a few tweaks and twists that have made such a difference.  So anyway - to horse!  Or kitchen.  lol

You'll be wondering what makes the big difference.  Well, firstly, I've got a new way of preparing the aubergines that works so beautifully well.  Instead of brushing the aubergine slices with olive oil and having them absorb half a bottleful, I am now taking advantage of that wonderful thing, the low calorie cooking spray.  In my case, a 1 calorie coconut oil version.  Spray the tray, lay the aubergine slices on, spray each slice, sprinkle with salt and pepper and into the oven they go.  They come out beautifully toasty, sweet and soft without being greasy in the slightest - which of course, then cuts the amount of oil your Moussaka is dealing with.  Perfect.

Secondly, I've included some garlic.  Now don't go looking all horrified, what I'm looking for here is flavour and it's only one clove.  Some traditional Moussaka recipes ask for it, some shun it completely.  Believe me, it makes a difference so go for it.

My third big improvement is that I have been using a pre-prepared bechamel sauce, to which I add two egg yolks and a good amount of nutmeg, plus as much seasoning as is required.  Yes, I have a taste just to test how much seasoning to use.  Now if you're hale and hearty and able to make your own bechamel by all means be my guest and do so.  If, however, you're like me and a short cut to deliciousness can only result in your not feeling so trashed later on in the day, then buy some.  I heartily recommend Lidl's Italiamo Besciamella as being one that is a gorgeous texture and delicious flavour.  A great starting point for any white sauce!

Now comes the big discussion point.  To potato or not potato.  For me and for all that I love potatoes, they are not welcome in my Moussaka.  I reckon that potato was only included because the price of a) lamb and b) aubergines became prohibitive and to make the dish more of a meal, potatoes were introduced.  I can respect that - I've done things like that myself, over the years.  However, I can't help but think that a true Moussaka should be just meat (and sauce), aubergines and bechamel sauce with nutmeg & cheese.  However, if you're trying to feed a big family and sliced potatoes will help make your Moussaka go further, then use them.  (It helps to add them to the aubergines being baked in the oven to par-cook.  Makes sure they cook through in the Moussaka).

There are two ingredients that it is important you don't skip.  One is the wine - absolutely essential.  Two is the teaspoonful of mint jelly.  The sweetness of the jelly helps to round out the acidity of the wine and as we all know, mint and lamb are a combination made in heaven.

Now I've used Grana Padano cheese for my Moussaka, but that is by no means set in stone.  I would have used Kefalotyri if I could have found any, or Parmesan if my son didn't hate the stuff.  To be honest, I dare say a good mature Cheddar would do the trick as you don't use very much.  So, I shall leave the cheese up to your own taste - but don't leave it out!  It is essential for getting that beautiful golden crust on the finished article.

Yes, this recipe takes time and yes, it makes a prodigious amount of washing up, however you can easily combat both of those points by making the dish up to the point of putting it in the oven and set it aside (even overnight, if needs be!) until required.  (I make mine in the morning, ready for eating that evening).  You just pre-heat the oven and in it goes.  As for the washing up, well hopefully you'll have had time to deal with that in the meantime, making clean up after dinner itself a relatively simple matter.

Choices of things to serve alongside your Moussaka include garlic bread, chips (a.k.a. fries) and of course, the ubiquitous side salad or even better a Greek salad of tomatoes, cucumber, olives, red onion and feta cheese sprinkled with dried oregano.  Delicious.

Oh and another plus point (as if you needed another one), is that it freezes really well.  So make an enormous dish and freeze half for another day.  Can't do better than that!

MOUSSAKA (serves 4)

Ingredients : 

2 large aubergines, sliced thinly
low calorie cooking spray
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 large onions, sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
500g minced lamb
1 tsp ground cinnamon
half a tsp dried thyme
2 vine ripened tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp of lamb stock powder (or 1 lamb stock cube)
200ml red wine
1 tsp mint jelly
500ml carton of Lidl Italiamo Besciamella (or other equivalent)
2 egg yolks
1 tsp grated nutmeg
grated Grana Padano cheese for sprinkling.

Method :

Preheat the oven to 180degC/350degF/gas mark 4.

Line two large baking trays with silver foil and spray with cooking spray.  Place the aubergine slices onto the baking tray and spray liberally with cooking spray.  Sprinkle with sea salt & black pepper then bake for 20 minutes or until they feel cooked through when a knife is inserted. They should hopefully have some browned areas, which adds to the flavour.  Set aside to cool.

Heat the rapeseed oil in a large frying pan and add the onions & garlic. Cook gently for around 15 minutes, stirring often, until golden and soft. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the minced lamb to the pan and fry on the highest heat, stirring often, until browned and slightly caramelised. Remove some of the fat that will have accumulated (if necessary) and return the onions & garlic to the pan.

Reduce the heat to moderate and add the cinnamon, thyme, tomatoes and tomato puree.  Stir to combine and cook on for another 2-3 minutes.  Add the lamb stock powder or cube and the red wine.  Bring everything to the boil and cook briskly, stirring often, until the red wine is reduced by half. Season with the mint jelly, salt and pepper to taste.

Using a lasagne dish, layer the aubergine and mince, starting with mince.  You should have sufficient for three layers of mince and three of aubergine, finishing with an aubergine layer.

Tip the bechamel sauce into a bowl and stir in the egg yolks, nutmeg and some black pepper.  Pour the sauce evenly over the top of the aubergine & lamb mixture and level the top surface.  Sprinkle liberally with the grated Grana Padano cheese.

Now, at this stage, you can leave the Moussaka to one side until you are ready to bake it.  It will cope with being refrigerated until the next day, if you so wish.

Making sure the oven is pre-heated to 180degC/350degF/gas mark 4 and the Moussaka is at room temperature, bake the Moussaka for around 45-50 minutes, until the top surface is golden and the edges are bubbling.  Remove from the oven and allow to settle for some 5-10 minutes prior to serving.

Serve with chips (fries) or garlic bread and a side salad with olives and feta cheese.

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