While it is my inclination to write about watermelon salad, gin gimlets and other things I want to make with apricots, I did promise something hearty. Something that could almost make the frozen pipes and car doors seem worth it, something to make you happy it’s cold outside. Something to make you not so envious of our balmy weather and late summer sunsets.
This is another of my mother’s wonders and it, like her epic vegetable lasagna, comes from, of all places, The British Dairy Farmer’s Association Cookbook. She probably started making it because it’s on the same page as the lasagna recipe. And while a Greek would probably reel at this take on their classic much the same way an Italian would turn up his nose at her lasagna, this moussaka is the best I’ve ever had.
In all fairness, the combination of cheese, eggplant, and ground meat is pretty hard to mess up. As you can imagine, the Brits don’t call for buffalo – that’s my recent addition – and, just like in the lasagna, they include a copious amount of cheddar cheese and a roux to finish the whole thing off. The result is stick-to-your ribs delicious, the perfect one dish dinner.
My mother makes it upon request, usually a day ahead because – I can’t stress this enough – so many things (from chocolate cake to bread soup) are better the next day. She once sent up a double batch with me and 10 of my closest friends on a New Years Eve trip to Montréal and we polished it off in one go. Even my eggplant-hating siblings eat it. And I couldn’t go past it as my request for our last dinner in the States.
So there you go. I promised you something wintry and comforting, and here it is. One of my all-time favorites. Good enough to have me over here sweating in flip flops and a t-shirt considering making this tonight. I think turning the oven on for extended periods may give the dog – who has spent the last week devising clever ways to spread out as much as physically possible on the cool wood floor – a nervous breakdown. Oh well, I’ll just have to wait until next year. A little season envy never hurt anyone, after all.
Use ground lamb for a more authentic flavor, or substitute beef or buffalo for something milder. We’ve even used ground turkey in the past and were pleased with the results. Make this a day in advance if you can, and serve with a simple green salad for the perfect cold weather meal. Recipe adapted from the long out of print British Dairy Farmer’s Association Cookbook. Serves 6 – 8
2 large eggplants (Sicilian if you can find them), sliced 1/2″ thick
1 kg (2.2 lbs) ground lamb, buffalo, beef or turkey
2 large onions, chopped
3 – 4 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup dry white wine or vermouth
1 16oz. can (2 cups) canned tomatoes, with juice
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried basil
⅔ cup breadcrumbs
ROUX: (double this if you loooove roux; we usually do)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Coat both sides of eggplant with olive oil and bake until soft, about 40 minutes, flipping after 15-20 minutes.
In a saucepan, heat a bit of oil and brown the meat. Add the onion, brown a bit more and add the tomato paste, wine, tomatoes and herbs. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
In a large cassolere dish, layer the eggplant with the meat and then the breadcrumbs, then repeat.
Prepare the roux by melting the butter in a sauce pan. Once butter has melted, stir in the flour and cook gently for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually stir in milk and bring to a boil. Continue to cook, stirring the whole time, until the sauce thickens, about 1 – 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, then stir in ⅔ of the cheese.
Spoon the roux over the moussaka and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake at 350°F / 180°C for 45 minutes. Finish under the broiler for a couple minutes until the top is dark brown. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Can be made a few days ahead and reheated in the oven.