This is exactly the time of year that Adrienne would be making Moussaka. At the end of the summer when the eggplants came fast, furious, and enormous, we made moussaka by the trayful. The whole family gathered round to lend a hand in the preparations. But in reality we were all waiting for a taste of that first batch of fried eggplant, hot and melting in the middle – it’s the best part of making moussaka. Of course the finished product was devoured as well, but that taste of fried eggplant hot from the skillet is the reason we always begged Adrienne, “Please make moussaka!”
You must salt the eggplant slices in order to draw the water out or they will not fry properly. If you don’t, the liquid they exude will make the moussaka soupy and bitter. And it is helpful to have two pans for frying the eggplant and two people manning them. If your kitchen is big enough and you have enough friends/family, a third person can make the meat sauce. When I do it solo, it takes the best part of an afternoon, so to make the time truly worth it, I usually make double the quantity, one for dinner and one for the freezer. I cut the moussaka destined for the freezer into quarters and freeze each section separately. Countless times I have been delighted to find this delicious homemade dish in my freezer when I was too tired to cook.
You must salt the eggplant slices in order to draw the water out or they will not fry properly. If you don’t, the liquid they exude will make the moussaka soupy and bitter.
- 4 to 6 medium to large eggplants
- ½ cup all-purpose flour Sunflower oil
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1½ pounds ground beef or lamb
- ¼ pound ground pork
- ¼ pound ground veal
- 2 ripe tomatoes or two cans Italian tomatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1 (16-ounce) bottle tomato sauce
- 4 tablespoons fresh oregano
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons fresh or dried thyme
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 12 ounces shredded mild cheeses, fontina and Cheddar
- 4 eggs
- 1½ cups light cream
- Step 1 Eggplant
- Step 2 Slice the eggplant into ½-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle with lots of salt on both sides, lay on paper towels, and let sit for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove to fresh paper towels and press lightly to remove as much water as possible. Place the flour on a plate. Heat ¼ inch sunflower oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Don’t add more than a ¼ inch of oil because the eggplant absorbs a lot of the oil in the pan and it will taste greasy. In batches, dredge the eggplant slices in the flour, shake off excess, and place in the hot oil. Brown on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes, remove to paper towels to drain. Continue until all the eggplant is fried.
- Step 3 Important: The flour that remains in the pan will start to burn after about two batches and will make everything taste bitter. Pour out the oil and wipe the pan with a paper towel – being careful not to burn yourself – and continue with fresh oil. Also, do not dredge the eggplant in the flour until you are ready to put it in the oil. If you do it too far in advance, the eggplant will soak up the flour and not fry properly.
- Step 4
- Step 5 Meat Sauce
- Step 6 Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened. Add all the ground meats and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat, until browned and crumbly. Drain off excess fat and water. Return the pan to the heat and add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, fresh oregano, dried oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, until cooked through.
- Step 7 Assembly
- Step 8 Preheat the oven to 350°F
- Step 9 Lightly oil a 13 x 9-inch baking pan or 3-quart casserole. Layer the eggplant slices, then the meat sauce, then the cheese in the casserole until all the ingredients have been used, about 3 layers each. End with a layer of cheese. Beat together the eggs and cream until smooth. Pour over the casserole. Bake for 45 minutes, until browned and bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.