Chef Walter’s Flavors + Knowledge: Moussaka
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Master Chef Walter Potenza, GoLocalWorcester Food Expert
Moussaka is a layered oven casserole dish made with vegetables and meat. The most well-known version of moussaka is made with layers of eggplant slices, cheese, and a meat sauce, topped with a thick béchamel sauce; however, other favorites call for potatoes, zucchini, or a combination of vegetables.
For the Vegetables:
3 to 4 eggplants, about 4 pounds
1 pound potatoes
Olive oil for greasing baking sheets
8 large egg whites (lightly beaten), the yolks will be used for the béchamel
2 cups plain breadcrumbs
1 1/2 pounds ground beef or lamb
2 large onions (finely diced)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For the Béchamel Sauce:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk (warmed)
8 large egg yolks (lightly beaten)
Pinch of ground nutmeg
For the Assembly:
Breadcrumbs for bottom of pan
1 cup Kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese (grated)
Prepare the Vegetables
Using a sharp peeler, partially peel the eggplants, leaving strips of peel about 1-inch wide around the eggplant. Slice the eggplant into 1/2-inch slices.
Place the eggplant slices in a colander and salt them liberally. Cover them with an inverted plate that is weighted down by a heavy can or jar. Place the colander in the sink and let it sit for at least 15 to 20 minutes, preferably 1 hour.
Peel the potatoes and boil them whole until they are just done, about 10 minutes. They should not get too soft, just cooked enough so that they no longer crunch. Drain, cool, and cut them into 1/4-inch slices. Set aside.
Heat the oven to 400 F. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and lightly grease with oil. Add a splash of water to the egg whites and beat them lightly with a fork. Place breadcrumbs on a flat plate.
Rinse the eggplant slices and dry with paper towels. Dip the eggplant slices in the beaten egg whites and then dredge them in the breadcrumbs, coating both sides. Place breaded eggplant slices on the foil-lined baking sheets and bake for 30 minutes, turning them over once during cooking.
When eggplant is finished cooking, lower the oven temperature to 350 F.
Make the Meat Filling
In a large sauté pan, brown the ground beef until the pink color disappears. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add wine to the pan and allow it to simmer and reduce a bit before adding cinnamon, allspice, parsley, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and sugar.
Allow the sauce to simmer, uncovered, for approximately 15 minutes so that excess liquid can evaporate. It should be a drier, chunkier tomato sauce. Adjust flavors to taste with salt and pepper.
Make the Béchamel Sauce
In a large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add flour to melted butter, whisking continuously to make a smooth paste. Let the flour cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown.
Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens a bit but does not boil.
Remove from heat, and stir in beaten egg yolks and pinch of nutmeg. Return to heat and stir until sauce thickens. Set aside.
Assemble the Moussaka
Lightly grease a large deep baking pan (a lasagna pan works perfectly). Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with breadcrumbs.
Leaving a 1/4-inch space around the edges of the pan, place a layer of potatoes on the bottom. Top with a layer of eggplant slices.
Add meat sauce on top of eggplant layer and sprinkle with 1/4 of the grated cheese. Top with another layer of eggplant slices and sprinkle once again with 1/4 of the grated cheese.
Pour the béchamel sauce over all, being sure to allow the sauce to fill the sides and corners of the pan. Smooth the béchamel on top with a spatula and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese.
Bake for 45 minutes or until béchamel sauce is a nice golden brown color. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing and serving.
Note: You can make this dish ahead but stop before making the béchamel sauce and refrigerate. Cook the béchamel sauce right before you intend to bake it.
Master Chef Walter Potenza is the owner of Potenza Ristorante in Cranston, Chef Walters Cooking School and Chef Walters Fine Foods. His fields of expertise include Italian Regional Cooking, Historical Cooking from the Roman Empire to the Unification of Italy, Sephardic Jewish Italian Cooking, Terracotta Cooking, Diabetes and Celiac. Recipient of National and International accolades, awarded by the Italian Government as Ambassador of Italian Gastronomy in the World. Currently on ABC6 with Cooking Show “Eat Well." Check out the Chef's website and blog
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