Moussaka

MoussakaThe Kickasserole

I gotta say, it was a good Christmas this year. Not one clunker gift could be found amongst the massive pile of paper and cardboard. We were all spoiled rotten. One of my favorite gifts has my thoughts spinning…

At Christmas time each year it’s a pretty safe bet that I will receive something that is at the very least related to cooking. This could be a cookbook, or a subscription to my favorite cooking magazine, or even some bizarre ingredient. But more often than not, it is a tool to be used in the preparation of food. This year was no different. What was different however was the personalization on the side. I received a gratin dish with “Amy’s Kickasserole” engraved on the side. It is a thing of beauty, and beyond awesome! But it is also as if a challenge has been issued.

One does not simply cook any old thing in a dish that says Kickasserole. No my friends, leave the mac & cheese or the baked ziti to the plain white earthenware. The Kickasserole is destined for much more interesting and grander fare, which is why my mind has been spinning. What would be the perfect recipe for the maiden voyage of the Kickasserole?

I have come to the conclusion that I can’t make anything that I have made before. That would be boring. It needs to be an event. So here’s the plan. One of the other gifts I got was a Greek cookbook. My daughter and I have decided we are going to cook from it for New Year’s Eve. And one of the recipes we will be making is one of my favorite dishes, Moussaka. I have never made it before. Ever. So I think it is the perfect choice to ring in the New Year and to begin the new era of the Kickasserole…

Moussaka
Adapted from Kokkari: Contemporary Greek Flavors
This is the cookbook from Kokkari Estiatorio, my absolute favorite Greek restaurant in San Francisco. If you have not had a chance to eat there, I highly recommend you make reservations!

Ingredients
For the Béchamel Sauce
8 ounces unsalted butter
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
7 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed
Sea salt

For the Lamb Filling
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound white onions, chopped
2 1/2 pounds ground lamb shoulder
1/4 cup Italian tomato paste
2 tablespoons honey
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For the Moussaka
2 globe eggplants, about 1 pound each
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds Yukon Gold or other yellow-fleshed potatoes
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup grated kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup Greek-style whole-milk yogurt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions
Make the Béchamel Sauce (can be done ahead)
In a large, heavy pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour all at once and cook, whisking continuously, until the mixture just begins to darken and smell nutty. (About 3 minutes)

Add 2 cups of the milk to the pot and whisk until smooth. Add another 2 cups and whisk again until smooth. The mixture should look like creamy mashed potatoes. Whisk in the remaining 4 cups milk and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes to eliminate the raw flour taste. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon to prevent the sauce from scorching, and scrape the sides of the pot occasionally with a heatproof rubber spatula.

Transfer the sauce to a large bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let cool, then cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Make the Lamb Filling (can be done ahead)
Put 1/4 cup of the olive oil and the onions in a large skillet. Sauté over high heat until the onions soften slightly and begin to smell sweet. (About 4 minutes) Do not allow them to color. Add the ground lamb and sauté, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until the lamb is no longer pink and there are no clumps. (About 3 minutes) Continue cooking until the meat releases its juices. (About 2 to 3 minutes longer)

Drain the mixture in a colander set over a bowl. Return the meat to the skillet. Allow the juices in the bowl to settle for about 5 minutes, then skim the surface fat with a soup spoon and return the skimmed juices to the skillet with the lamb.

Add the tomato paste, honey, bay leaves, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, 1 tablespoon salt, and several grinds of pepper. Simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the meat is moist but not soupy. (About 10 minutes) Remove the bay leaves.

Make the Moussaka
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Remove the ends of the eggplants and score them lengthwise in 4 to 6 places, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange on a wire rack and salt both sides lightly. Let drain for about 1 hour, then pat dry.

In a bowl, combine the eggplant slices and the 1/2 cup olive oil. Toss to coat the slices evenly, then arrange them on a heavy baking sheet in one layer. Season both sides with sea salt, using a total of 1 teaspoon. Grind some pepper over the top and bake until the eggplant is tender. (About 20 to 25 minutes)

Peel the potatoes and slice them into 3/8 inch thick rounds. Toss them in a bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Arrange them on a heavy baking sheet in one layer and bake until tender. (About 20 to 25 minutes) You can bake them at the same time as the eggplant.

Whisk the béchamel until smooth and no longer stiff. Whisk in the egg, egg yolks, cheese, yogurt, and nutmeg to make a custard topping.

In a 15” x 10” x 2” baking dish, arrange the roasted potatoes in a single layer. Top with the lamb filling, compacting it into an even layer with the back of a wooden spoon. Next place the roasted eggplant slices over top, in a single layer. Dollop the custard topping on top of the eggplant, and then spread the custardgently into an even layer.

Set on a baking sheet in the oven, and bake the casserole until well-browned and set—but still quivery. (About 45 to 50 minutes)

Allow the Moussaka to cool for at least 45 minutes before slicing.

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