Moussaka

Yield: Serves 12

=== INGREDIENTS:
•1/4 cup olive oil
•2 pounds ground beef (or ground lamb, even better)
•1 small onion, chopped
•1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
•3/4 cup dry red wine (I used apricot wine)
•2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
•1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
•1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

•1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
•1/4 cup all purpose flour
•2 cups milk
•3 eggs
•1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

•1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds),
peeled, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds (I left peel on, see ROASTING)


=== DIRECTIONS:
Heat olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and chopped onion and cook until beef is brown, breaking up beef with fork, about 15 minutes. Mix in tomato sauce, red wine, parsley, crumbled oregano and ground cinnamon. Simmer until mixture thickens and is almost dry, stirring occasionally, about 20-40 minutes. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover tightly and refrigerate.)

One important step in the recipe calls for salting or “degorging” the eggplant. Do not be temped to skip this. Degorging does 4 important things:

1. It helps remove some of the bitterness, especially found in larger eggplants that have a lot of seeds ( where most of the bitterness is) by drawing out the bitter moisture.

2. It helps reduce the amount of oil the eggplant will absorb, resulting in a lighter, healthier, less oily dish.

3. It improves the eggplant’s overall texture, keeping it from getting too mushy.

4. Even though most the salt is rinsed off, it seasons the eggplant nicely.

Cut off top and bottome of the eggplant and then peel the eggplant lengthwise, and cut into 1/4 inch disks ( no thinner).

Sprinkle salt on the eggplant and place in a bowl or colander to sit for one hour. As you will see, the eggplant will release moisture. Make sure to rinse this off well ( this is a bitter liquid). Place on a clean kitchen towel ( or paper towels) and place another towel over top, pressing down to dry the eggplant as much as possible.

ROASTING: A very important step that some forget to do is roast the eggplant. This is must! You can also grill it, if easier, but please, whatever you do, don’t put raw eggplant into the mousaka, it won’t have the texture or depth it needs!!

Place the eggplant slices on a greased baking sheet and either brush lightly with olive oil, or spray with cooking spray.

Roast in a 400F oven until golden, 20-30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, careful not to blacken. If need be, remove any slices that are thinner which will have cooked faster. The eggplant will continue to cook once assembled, so at this point, don’t worry if they don’t seem completely done. Just make sure they are golden in color. You can also broil them, to bring up the color.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and stir 1 minute. Gradually add milk, whisking until smooth. Boil until thick, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Beat eggs in small bowl to blend. Whisk small amount of milk mixture into eggs. Return mixture to saucepan. Bring to boil, whisking constantly. Remove custard from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Season custard to taste with salt and pepper.

Butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Arrange half of eggplant in bottom of dish. Season with salt and pepper. Spread meat mixture over. Top with remaining eggplant. Pour hot custard cheese sauce over eggplant. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan. Cover loosely with foil and bake 1 hour. Uncover and continue baking until golden and bubbling on edges, about 10 minutes longer. Cool 10 minutes.