We had some good friends over yesterday for lunch. A while back when we arranged it we envisaged a barbecue perhaps – you know, it being June and all… It forecast heavy rain, and a lot of it, so we knew we’d be eating inside and that we’d probably all feel like something warm and comforting. But it’s still summer after all so a wintery casserole or similar wasn’t really appropriate. I also needed something I could do in advance as I hate faffing with cooking just before people arrive, or even worse, when they’re there. So I settled on a Moussaka, which is reminiscent of Mediterranean holidays but also as comforting as a pair of slippers – and also a great pre-prepare dish. Perfect!
Whilst all the recipes that you will find here on Well Worn Whisk are easy, they are definitely not all quick. I don’t see why – aside from things like midweek suppers when a half hour turnaround is desirable of course – busy people should shy away from slow cook dishes or things that require a bit of prep. Especially at the weekend, and especially when the task itself is so easy. The slow bit is the ragu which takes over an hour to cook, and the prep bit is the frying off of the aubergines which is as easy as you like but, yes, it does take a while if you want to do it properly.
Once you have your 3 component elements done – aubergines, ragu, bechamel – you simply assemble and can either bake there and then, freeze, or refrigerate to bake the next day. I did the last two. I doubled up on the recipe below, putting one in the fridge to bake the next day and one in the freezer. I’m doing a lot of batch cooking at the moment due to the baby being due in 5 weeks (another plus to this recipe is that it freezes great).
Incidentally, our friends really enjoyed the Moussaka, with one guest even proclaiming it “the best Moussaka he’d ever had”!
Serves: 4/6 adults
Prep time: 1 hour 45 mins
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 2 hours 45 mins
450 g minced lamb
2 onions, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato puree
75 ml red wine
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 small aubergines, cut into about 1/2 cm slices
salt and pepper
For the béchamel:
75 g butter
75 g flour
1 pint milk
50 g cheddar cheese, grated
2 eggs, beaten
freshly grated nutmeg – about a quarter of a whole nutmeg
- First get your ragu going. Fry your sliced onions until soft over a medium heat, without colouring them, for about 20 minutes. Half way through the 20 minutes put your garlic in too.
- Add your minced lamb, turn up the heat and seal the meat. You may want to drain some of the fat that comes out of the lamb, I didn’t, but if your lamb is quite fatty you may prefer to.
- Add your tomatoes, tinned and pureed, along with your dried oregano and ground cinnamon. Throw in a small glass of wine and let it all come to the boil.
- Turn down the heat and simmer with the lid on for about 1 hour. Then take the lid off for a further 15 minutes to reduce the sauce. Season and taste. You want a thick ragu so if you think it needs more reduction then cook for a little longer.
- Now, whilst your ragu is cooking, begin your bechamel. Melt your butter and then stir in your flour over a low heat. Keep stirring to ‘cook out’ the flour for 5 minutes. Add your milk gradually, using a whisk helps to get rid of any lumps. Turn up the heat to let the sauce thicken and then turn back down and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring over a low heat. Add your cheese. Turn off the heat and let the sauce cool. Just before you are ready to assemble, when your sauce has cooled quite a bit or is cold even, add your beaten eggs to the sauce and whisk to incorporate.
- And now the aubergines, which is the most laborious part. Simply slice them thinly, trying not to make them any more than 1cm thick, ideally 1/2 cm, and drizzle a little olive oil in the pan over a medium high heat. Fry them in batches, turning them once. Get some nice colour on them. Each batch will take about 10 minutes. I give each one a little squash with a fork to let out any water or excess oil whilst frying and this also seems to hurry up the cooking process. Now once you have your 3 elements ready you simply combine. Start with a layer of meat sauce, then aubergines, then another of meat sauce and another of aubergines – and finally the cheese sauce. Cook for 1 hour in a pre-heated oven at 180C.
- I don’t think this dish needs anything else apart from garlic bread and salad. And a small glass of red wine too of course!