Casseroles are not easy to photograph. I’m sure most of you food bloggers have run into this. You simply cannot will a creamy sauce into a desired shape. (Granted, I haven’t been spending that much time on photos lately…isn’t it enough effort just to cook the damn food?!) I usually only put photos on this blog that are, at the least, minimally appetizing and, at best, drool inducing, so it pains me a little to present this and expect you to trust me when I say it’s delicious.
But, this is the sad state you find me in today. In case you are wondering what the hell is under that white shroud of custard, let me fill you in. Moussaka, a Greek dish, is usually a layered casserole of eggplant, ground lamb, and other vegetables in a tomato sauce spiced with cinnamon, allspice and sometimes cloves. This version is vegetarian, although it’s still quite substantial. Serving basmati rice on the side is a nice addition.
I really enjoyed this recipe from Epicurious. It could use a bit more depth of flavor in the sauce, but that could be easily remedied. I hope, despite the picture, you will try this! I enjoy the fact that this can be a main dish or a side dish, and you can make it a day ahead.
3½ pounds eggplant
½ cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
1 cup carrots, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz. Portobello mushrooms, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
28-oz can crushed tomatoes
about 1 cup parmesan cheese
6 Tbsp butter
7 Tbsp all purpose flour
3 ½ cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
Prepare the eggplant
- Slice the unpeeled eggplant into ½ inch rounds. Cover 2 baking sheets with paper towels. Salt both sides of the eggplant slices and place on the baking sheets for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Pat the eggplant rounds dry and oil the same baking sheets. Place the eggplant in a single layer and brush with ¼ cup of olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes; turn the eggplant and bake for 15 more minutes. Eggplant should be very tender.
- Reduce oven temp. to 350 degrees. Heat other ¼ cup of olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook for 10 minutes or until very tender. Stir in the garlic and mushrooms and sauté over medium high heat for about 10 minutes, or until the water from the mushrooms evaporates.
- Stir in the oregano, cinnamon and allspice. Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer for another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Oil a 9x13 baking dish and layer half the eggplant slices in the bottom of the dish. Ladle half the tomato sauce over the eggplant. Sprinkle 3 Tbsp of the parmesan cheese over the sauce. Repeat by layering the remaining eggplant in the dish and topping it with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with another few tablespoons of cheese.
Make the Béchamel
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour to make a roux.
- After 3 minutes, gradually whisk in the milk. Whisk over medium heat until sauce is just brought to a boil. Remove from heat. Whisk in ½ cup of parmesan.
- Whisk together the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Gradually add ¼ cup of béchamel sauce at a time to the egg yolks, whisking vigorously so you don’t scramble the eggs. After about 1 cup of béchamel, you can usually add the rest without fear of scrambling.
- Pour this custard over the vegetables and sprinkle with extra cheese. Bake for 45 minutes, or until custard is set on top and lightly browned. Let cool 15 minutes before serving. Serves 8 generously.