This dish takes a *long* time (several hours) to get everything prepped, but is well worth the effort for a lazy saturday.
A few weeks ago I went to Chicago Wine Riot with some friends, and for the lunch beforehand we visited this fantastic Greek place. I love Greek food, particularly that distinctive tomato sauce with allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon, so I thought I’d try my hand at Moussaka, a hearty casserole-like dish with layers of meat, potatoes, and eggplant. However, I didn’t feel like making the béchamel sauce (a necessity for real Moussaka) partly because it called for so much butter, and partly because I always find separating egg whites/yolks to be a pain.
So I did some thinking and decided to try an experiment: a delicious bastardization of Greek moussaka and Italian lasagna. With so much Mediterranean goodness, what could possibly go wrong?
Note: I probably sound like a hypocrite after my recent post talking about being very particular about authentic Mexican food. I should point out that I enjoy a Chipotle burrito as much as the next guy, so long as it’s not billed as “authentic”. So! Disclaimer: This is not authentic. This is a dish prepared on a whim by a Mexican-American fusing two beloved recipes from distinct cultures, each with their own rich culinary traditions.
- ~12 large lasagna noodles
- 16 oz. ricotta cheese
- 3 large eggplants
- 4 large red potatoes
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3/4 lb ground lamb
- 3/4 lb Italian sausage
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 8 oz can tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
- 1 lb mozzarella cheese
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground oregano
- 1 teaspoon rosemary
- 1 teaspoon ground basil
- salt + pepper
- large baking dish/tray (tall one will be nice)
Begin by partially peeling the eggplants. What I mean by that is to peel strips of skin off along the long-axis, leaving about 1-inch of skin in between each “stripe”. I’m not sure why this is done, but most of the recipes I looked at for comparison seemed to insist on it. Cut the eggplants into ~1/2″ slices. Layer the slices on a baking sheet covered with paper towels, and douse them with salt. This step is to help remove excess moisture from the eggplants — I found it convenient to stack several layers of paper towels and salted eggplants to conserve space (see image below).
You’ll want to give the salt and towels some time to work, so let the eggplants sit for about 30 min, and go to work on the potatoes. Slice the potatoes into roughly 1/4″ thick pieces. Lightly coat a baking pan or two with olive oil and spread out the slices evenly. Sprinkle some pepper, rosemary, and red pepper flakes and put the potatoes in the oven at 375 °F for about 25 minutes.
Now that the potatoes are cooking it’s time to set up an assembly line for the eggplants. On the right we have my mighty eggplant-slice tower, in the middle is a container containing 3 eggs scrambled together with half of the parsley, and to the left is the 2 cups of flour. Dip each eggplant slice into the egg mixture and coat thoroughly with flour — if you have an extra greased baking sheet you can place them there, but if not just put them on a plate or something until the potatoes are finished.
By now the potatoes should be done. I do love roasted red potatoes! Put them on a plate and out of the way so that there is room in the oven for…
the eggplants! Arrange them on two baking dishes (if you haven’t already) and bake them at 400 °F for 30 minutes, turning the slices over at the halfway point.
While the eggplants are cooking you are going to do two things. The first is to boil water for the lasagna noodles, and then cook the lasagna noodles. The following picture is not really there to show you how noodles are boiled, but more so that you remember to start cooking the noodles in the first place:
The second is to take your chopped onions and minced garlic and throw them onto a skillet with some olive oil. Let cook for a few minutes, and then add the ground lamb and sausage. I like to remove the sausage meat from the casing, but you don’t have to.
Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally until the meat is browned and the onions translucent.
Now it’s time to add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, red wine, cinnamon, oregano, allspice, cloves, basil (all the spices, basically).
Let this simmer for about 20 minutes, depending on the consistency of sauce you’d like. By this point it should be time to take out the eggplants:
Yum! The last thing before construction time is to take the ricotta cheese and mix it into a bowl with 1 egg and the rest of the parsley. (apparently I forgot to take a picture of this step, but it’s pretty straightforward).
OK! So you’ve got the eggplants, the meat sauce, the potatoes, the lasagna noodles, the ricotta cheese all good to go. For ease of reference I’ve made this chart of the “unit cell” that I decided to go with:
The structure consists of two main layers. The “Greek” layer, consisting of potato, eggplant, and meat sauce, followed by the “Italian” layer with noodle, ricotta, mozzarella, meat sauce, and then another layer of noodles. In the end I managed to get two of each, although I did feel like I was a bit lacking on the meat sauce, so it might be desirable to increase the quantity. Anyway, this is what it looked like after the second “Greek” layer.
After the second “Italian” layer I had run out of meat sauce, so I topped the whole thing off with a final layer of noodles, the rest of the mozzarella, and some parmesan.
Let it bake at 375 °F for 25 minutes covered with aluminum foil, and then 25 additional minutes uncovered. Now pour yourself another glass of wine, because you’re finished!
(it doesn’t hold together very well, but then again it doesn’t last long enough for it to matter)
This may be my most successful recent cooking experiment! The dish is incredible; the only thing I might change would be to make more sauce, as I had to skimp on the layering towards the end.