Jon and Greg recommend using fresh, unblemished eggplant for the following moussaka recipe:
More than four pounds of eggplant go into this Greek classic. Peeled, sliced eggplant, salted and drained of its bitter juices, is fried to a rich brown color and layered in a pan with a cinnamon-flavored ground meat filling. An egg-enriched white sauce goes on top followed by a sprinkling of grated cheese. After a final baking, the dish is ready to serve. The beauty of moussaka lies in its combination of textures and flavors and in how it showcases the creaminess of the eggplant.
Eggplant needs a lengthy salting before cooking. About 2 hours should do it. After rinsing the slices and patting them dry, they’ll brown quickly in olive oil and absorb very little of it.
Moussaka can be made in stages. The eggplant and meat filling may be made a day ahead and refrigerated. On the day you plan to serve it, just assemble it, make the béchamel sauce, and bake. Serve with a green salad and crusty bread.
3 large globe eggplants (about 4 ½ pounds total weight)
Olive oil for frying
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound yellow onions, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 ½ pounds ground chuck (80 per-cent lean)
1 cup canned tomato puree or crushed tomatoes
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crumbled
1 to 1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups milk
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
3 egg yolks
½ to ¾ cup grated Parmesan, Compté, or kefalotiri cheese
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
To prepare the eggplant, cut the ends off and discard. Peel the vegetable and cut crosswise into ½-inch-thick rounds. Sprinkle salt on both sides of each slice and layer them in a colander. Set the colander in the sink, cover the eggplant with a plate, and set a 5-pound weight on top. A few cans of food should do it. Let stand 2 hours to drain. Rinse eggplant to wash off any salt, and squeeze each slice to remove water. Pat eggplant dry between several layers of paper towels. Eggplant will have shrunk considerably.
Film a large skillet with olive oil and set the pan over medium-high heat. When very hot, add eggplant to the pan in a single layer and cook about 2 minutes on each side until well-browned. Drain on paper towels, and continue cooking eggplant in batches, adding more oil as necessary.
Arrange the cooled eggplant slices, slightly overlapping, on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate up to two days.
To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, and cook just until browned. Stir in the tomato, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Cook, stirring, 5 to 10 minutes more, until meat mixture is thick. Taste carefully and adjust seasoning if necessary. Cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to two days. Reheat over low heat before assembling the moussaka.
For the béchamel, heat the milk in a saucepan until almost boiling and set aside. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon and cook the bubbly roux for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in all the hot milk. Stir well and return the pan to medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the sauce is very thick, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove sauce from the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add the nutmeg. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks with about 1 cup of the sauce. Add to remaining sauce in pan and stir well. Cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes, to cook the yolks. Sauce will be very thick.
To assemble and bake the moussaka. Adjust one oven rack to the center position and a second rack to the lowest position. Set a sheet of aluminum foil on the lower rack and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 12 x 8 x 2-inch baking dish. Arrange half the eggplant slices, slightly overlapping, to cover the bottom of the pan completely. Spread with the hot meat filling, packing the filling down. Cover the meat completely with the remaining eggplant slices, overlapping them as necessary.
Whisk the hot béchamel sauce to make sure it’s smooth, and spread it evenly over the eggplant. Sprinkle with the cheese and dot sauce with the butter pieces. The pan will be full.
Bake on the center rack for 45 minutes, or until well-browned. The foil will catch any juices that bubble over. Cool the moussaka for 15 minutes. Cut into portions with a sharp knife using a gentle sawing motion.
Makes 8 servings. Copyright©2014 by Greg Patent
(Broadcast: The Food Guys, 9/28/14)