Moussaka with Minimum Fuss

Finally.

We have the sort of glorious weather we have been anticipating for about two months. As luck would have it, this improvement coincided with a camping trip where a pre-prepared courgette cake courtesy of Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess was eaten along with barbecued fish, chicken fajitas, french toast and butter bean dip. All good stuff as the omnipresent camping food of burgers and sausages were for once kept to a minimum.

The speed of the arrival of the heat wave is reminiscent of the process of taking a plane ride to the southern Med and the sudden rise in temperature engulfing you as the cabin doors are opened and you descend the plane’s steps.

Greece, a classic destination for such as phenomenon has been a favourite haunt of ours over the years and I adore their fabulous food and drink. Meze, stews, spinach pies, retsina; I love it all.

The most famous dish of all must be moussaka and traditionally, in this country if Delia Smith is to be believed, preparing such a dish is a long drawn out process and although there is no getting round making a white sauce and a meat sauce, I dont’ believe one needs to fry endless slices of aubergine for hours on end. I would also say this is a good candidate for a few hidden veggies.

So you will need (serves 4):

  • 500g Lamb Mince, 1 medium Onion, chopped, 1 stick of Celery, chopped, 1 carrot, grated, 1 Aubergine, roughly chopped, Olive Oil, 1 tbsp Tomato Puree, ½-1 tsp Cinnamon, 250-300ml Red Wine, ½ tsp of chopped Flat Leaf Parsley, Salt and Pepper and a grating of Parmesan.
  • 500g Potatoes
  • ½ to ¾ pint of White Sauce made using 40g of butter, 40g of plain flour, ½ to ¾ pint of milk, a grating of nutmeg, salt and pepper

By way of preparation, cut potatoes into large chunks and boil until soft, drain and set aside meanwhile fry off the lamb mince in a frying pan and put the roughly chopped aubergine in a colander and sprinkle with a little salt and leave in the sink to catch any moisture released.

To make the meat sauce, fry the onion in a slug of olive oil and once transparent, add the celery and carrot and any other chopped veg you wish to add such as courgette and red pepper. Cook gently for 5-10 minutes and then add the drained lamb mince, the aubergine, tomato puree, wine, cinnamon, parsley and around 200ml of just boiled water so the consistency is not too dry. Stir around, bring to the boil and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, whilst you make the white sauce.

White sauce for anyone who needs reminding: over a moderate heat melt the butter and once completely liquid, add the flour and stir to form a paste. Cook for a minute or two and then away from the heat gradually add the milk, stirring well between each addition until you have a smooth sauce the consistency of single cream. Return to the heat and stirring all the time allow it to come up to boiling and simmer for a minute or two. Add the salt and pepper and the nutmeg, stir, and leave off the heat.

Meanwhile, roughly chop about a third of the now cooled potatoes and add to the meat mixture and check the seasoning adding salt and pepper to taste. Thickly slice the rest of the potato.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C. Into the bottom of a medium-sized oven to tableware dish, smear a spoonful of white sauce and then add a layer of potato slices. Pour in the meat sauce (don’t add all the liquid if it seems very liquidy, but you do want some), then another layer of potato and spread over the white sauce to cover the top. Grate a little parmesan cheese as a final flourish and then bake for 35-45 minutes until the top is crispy and brown and the filling is bubbling.

Delish, particularly, served with a greek salad.

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