Or is it Greek Shepherd’s Pie?
Maybe it’s an entity all its own.
A spicy-savory combination of lamb, squash, potatoes and custard, it is a hearty meal that is perfect for using the late summer produce that is all over the farmers markets right now.
And it’s a great way to spend 3 hours when you have air conditioning and it is over 90 degrees outside.
If the eggplants tiny, like Japanese or Fairytale varieties, feel free to leave the skin on.
If they are larger, you will want to peel them with a vegetable peeler,
and then slice them. No matter what variety of eggplant you choose, you want eggplants that are firm and smooth skinned, with a hefty weight for their sizes.
Now, place your eggplants in a colander, then set the colander in a bowl.
Sprinkle the eggplant liberally with salt,
and put a plate on the eggplant. Make sure the plate is small enough to fit INSIDE the colander, so it can be weighted down with a few cans. This step is used to press the excess moisture and bitterness out of the eggplant. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to an hour. Water will collect in the bowl.
In the meanwhile…
Chop both ends off…
of your zucchini and squash.
and slice each squash lengthwise into 3 long strips.
Put it on the foiled pan, drizzle it HEAVILY with olive oil (squash just soaks up that oil so quickly, you will want to use more than you think you need), and put it in the preheated oven.
Now, take your tomatoes, cut a small cross mark in the bottom of the tomato (not the stem end), and
drop it into the pot of boiling water for about 20 seconds. When it comes out, put it into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process and…
The skin will peel right off.
Cut the tomatoes into slices and set them aside.
Now it’s time to take your diced onions and garlic,
and set it to gently saute in a new pot until golden and translucent.
Meanwhile, slice your potatoes thickly. We used Yukon Golds, but feel free to use Russets. Just be aware that russets will dissolve more and become more like mashed potatoes, while Yukons will retain their form and be more like baked potatoes. It’s all what kind of texture you like.
When the onions are translucent, you want to throw your lamb and all the dried spices EXCEPT the nutmeg into the pot. The minute the spices hit the pot and the lamb starts to cook, you should be hit with an intoxicating aroma. Sweet, earthy, meaty, spicy…if this doesn’t make you drool, there’s something wrong with your drooler.
Move the lamb around so it starts to brown (it should do so quickly), and then toss in your can of tomato paste,
stir it in
and let it cook on low for about 15 minutes, or until the lamb is fragrant but no longer pink. Then remove it from the heat, and reserve it for later.
Your squash should be done by now – soft in the center and crispy and caramelized at the edges. You don’t want a deep brown color here – just a light golden one. If the squash still has a little crunch, that is okay. It will continue to cook in the oven later.
Now, it’s time to release your eggplant from it’s watery, salty bath.
Be sure you REALLY rinse off your eggplant, unless you want a layer of salt and inch thick in your moussaka.
Then, pat dry your eggplant,
and layer it on the pan with a lot of olive oil. It’s okay if there is some overlapping here. And…once again…you need a LOT of oil here. You are basically oven sauteeing this.
Wow, I just made up a cooking term.
In about 40 minutes, this is what you will have. A pan full of eggplant chips, ranging from crispy and almost black to soft and barely golden.
On to the custard:
In a new pot, gently melt your butter. You want the heat pretty low here, because you don’t want it browned at all.
Once it is melted, add your milk, and
your flour. This is the genius of this custard. Unlike bechamel, where there is a lot of whisking involved to get rid of lumps, adding the flour into the liquid creates a smooth, thickened liquid with almost no lumps at all!
Now, it’s time to add your lightly beaten egg yolks,
and some salt and pepper! In about 12 minutes, you will have a thick custard that is mostly tasteless, but don’t worry…it will develop the right taste once it cooks in the oven.
Now, for the assembly:
6)Rosemary (optional, but it really does add a wonderful woodsiness that enhances the lamb’s slightly gamey taste)
10)Custard and cheese
11)Repeat steps 1-10 until all ingredients are used.
You may have more potatoes and meat than anything else. In that case, the last few layers might be more meat and potato centric than the others.
As long as you finish the top with custard and cheese, it’s all good!
Pop this thing into the oven for about 1 hour, or until the potatoes are soft and the smell invading your kitchen is a little too delicious. If the top gets too brown whilst cooking, feel free to cover the top with foil.
Let it cool if you can. Moussaka is just delicious room temperature. Of course, if you are me…
You won’t be able to wait for it to cool. This meat pie is so fragrant, so luscious looking beneath it’s darkened crust, so soft to the touch that you will REALLY have to eat it whilst piping hot. The lamb is spicy with allspice, and the cinnamon and rosemary bring out the lamb’s natural grassiness. The squash and eggplant are soft and melting, The potatoes, buttery and tender, soak up the rich egginess of the custard. The tomatoes release all of their sweet acidity and melt into the caramelized onions and garlic. The Parmesan cheese brings a sharpness to the dish that makes the whole thing bright and multifaceted. This is a dish for someone who likes lamb. If you don’t like it, you won’t like this. This is all about the lamb – well, maybe it’s all about the vegetables. Well, it’s really kind of about the custard.