Of Lambs & Nightshades: Moussaka

I modified a Frugal Gourmet recipe for moussaka, a Greek culinary classic, to come up with something a little faster, although there is still some whisking involved.

1/2 pound ground lamb
1 onion, chopped
chopped parsley
dash cinnamon
1 t oregano
1/2 c. red wine
1+ cup tomato sauce (any kind will do)
parmesan cheese
1 eggplant
olive oil
2 eggs
1 T butter
1 T flour
1 c milk
dash nutmeg

Assemble ingredients as follows
In a saucepan, saute onion in some olive oil until glassy. Add ground lamb, parsley, cinnamon and oregano and brown together. Then add red wine to deglaze (i.e. help dissolve any delicious crud from bottom of pan). Add tomato sauce and cook together on low heat for at least half an hour (try a heat diffuser underneath to avoid burning). Towards end of cooking, add a generous handful of parmesan cheese and mix together.

Meanwhile, wash the eggplant (don't peel it) and slice it in 1/4-inch disks. Arrange them in layers in a colander and sprinkle salt over each layer. Leave in the sink for half an hour or more. Heat oven to 425˚. Rinse the slices and dry them with a cloth towel (paper towels are OK if you have a lot of them). Place slices on an oiled cookie sheet and bake in oven for about 15 minutes per side, or until tender and somewhat browned. Set aside and turn oven down to 350˚.

With meat sauce & eggplant slices in a warm holding pattern, start the topping by melting the butter in a saucepan and whisking it together with the flour once melted. It should form a crumbly paste. Then pour in the milk a little at a time and whisk together (this bit-by-bit method helps avoid lumps). Cook until mixture has somewhat thickened. Add dash of nutmeg, salt, and handful of parmesan cheese, and stir in. In a separate bowl, beat together 2 eggs. Take milk mixture off heat and pour a bit into the eggs (not too much at once, or the eggs might scramble in the bowl). Beat together. Then, pour egg mixture into milk mixture and return to heat. Here's where you need to have a steady whisking hand for about 10 minutes. The idea is to cook the topping until it becomes nice and thick (almost like frosting), but not clumpy or overcooked. You may want to remove the pan from the heat periodically as you whisk, to avoid overheating the bottom too much. One chef's trick for testing doneness is to try to drizzle some of the mixture off the end of the whisk onto the surface of the rest of the mixture. When you notice that the drizzle sits on the surface for a moment before disappearing, you're getting close. The mixture should become smooth and paste-y in a few minutes. Take it off the heat.

Now it's time to put everything together. Divide the eggplant slices in half and place half in the bottom of a glass baking dish (a 9x9 square or 8x10 rectangle are good approximate sizes). Pour all of meat sauce over the eggplant, then layer on the rest of the eggplant slices. Pour the topping over the top layer and smooth it out with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle top with more parmesan cheese. Put in the oven for 45-60 minutes, or until the top is browned and the lower layers are happily bubbling. Cut as if lasagna and serve!

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