I am delighted to introduce a guest contributor to The Greasy Spoon, Nicholas Good. Nick has just returned from a late summer jaunt to the Aegean island of Skopolos, and has perfected the art of preparing that Greek classic: moussaka.
"Like Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra, my moussaka is an almost all Greek thing. It’s almost all Greek because unless you make it in Greece with Greek ingredients, it’s just not going to taste quite right. However, I'm content that this version passes muster as it compared very favourably with that served in the local taverna in Skopolos (from where I’ve just returned).
Moussaka neatly breaks down into three different elements: aubergines (known as eggplant in America), mutton ragu, and béchamel sauce. These must be made up separately and then combined to cook together.
To serve six people (or four very hungry ones) take three aubergines of a reasonable size (about seven inches long with a wide girth). These should be sliced into approx quarter inch thick rounds and placed in a colander with lots of coarse salt (Malvern is best), muddled around and then set aside for three quarters of an hour.
Then move on to the ragu. In a solid wide pan heat two to three tablespoons of olive oil, and fry two finely chopped medium onions. When these have just softened to a golden colour, add half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a heaped tablespoon of tomato puree. Stir this around until the colour mellows. Then add 1 lb (500g) of mutton mince (lamb if you must, but it’ll have less taste). Break it all up with a wooden spoon and cook on gently for quarter of an hour. Add to this a large glass of red wine (please use something drinkable as it should add flavour rather than a horrid oak vinegary twang- allowing for the rarity of half decent Greek wines outside Greece, a tolerable Burgundy should suffice). This will all need to cook on a low setting, partly covered, for a further three quarters of an hour. If it goes dry add an extra slosh or two of wine.
Back to the aubergines. Drain them under a running tap and dry on a clean linen cloth. Place half an inch of sieved flour in a large bowl along with ground black pepper and some ground fine salt. Then tip the aubergines in and make sure they’re floured all over. Heat some oil (a mixture of olive and sunflower works well) in a frying pan and, in batches, fry the floured aubergine rounds until they’re crispy and just going brown-golden. Pile the cooked ones up on a plate and don’t worry about them getting cold.
Now butter a large fairly deep oven dish – a lasagne dish is ideal, and lay in half the aubergines. Onto that spread the mutton ragu mixture. Then lay on the rest of the aubergines. Set the part-filled dish aside and preheat your oven to 220 C, 425 F, Gas mark 7. You are now ready for the pièce de résistance: the béchamel soufflé sauce. This is clearly something rather secret as all the recipes I’ve come across suggest that you just use standard béchamel, or Gawd help us a cheese sauce. But some do suggest a feta cheese sauce or something cheesy with eggs whipped in. But this sauce will give you both an authentic taste and a good depth of layer.
First place one and a half pints of full fat milk in a saucepan, along with a small onion, peeled and halved but not chopped up, a bay leaf, two cloves and a pinch of salt. Bring this to the boil, turn off the heat and cover so that it infuses for at least ten minutes.
In a very clean bowl whip up four egg whites with rotary whisk so they form firm peaks. Set those aside. Dissolve 1½ oz (50g) of butter and stir in 1½ oz (50g) of sieved flour in a saucepan. Stir this to a soft, pale coloured ball of roux that comes clean of the pan. Strain the infused milk and add a third of it to the roux mixture over medium heat. Wait a moment for the milk to boil, stir thoroughly with a wooden spoon, take it from heat and it beat well. Repeat with the second third. After a second beating, add the remaining milk, also add 3 oz (85g) of real Greek feta and a good few grates of nutmeg. Then, when the sauce boils again, beat very thoroughly. Take it off the heat and beat out some of the steam - for approx one minute. Then with a large metal spoon loosely stir in the whisked egg whites. Spoon this mixture carefully over to cover the aubergine layer.
Finally, place very thin slices of tomato over the béchamel to form a kind of Cross of St George. Place the whole in the hot preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes until the top is risen and a pale golden brown. Turn the oven down to 170 C, 325 F, Gas mark 3) and continue cooking for a further half an hour. By this time it will be bubbling at the edges and a dark, cracked gold with the tomatoes slightly sunk in and just crisping at the edges.
You should let it sit for ten minutes before serving, or let it cool completely, cut it into portions and reheat individual slices for twenty minutes or so in a medium oven."