Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring Break Edition: Vegetarian Moussaka for a Crowd

Whew! It has been an absolute whirlwind since my last post, filled with all kinds of fun that, over time, I will get around to writing about here. In brief, my husband had the week off for spring break, my in-laws came for the better part of the week, we took three separate road trips, Sean and his dad built a swing set, and we celebrated my baby boy's second birthday -- twice.

It wasn't a big week for cooking (though I do have a yummy muffin recipe I'll share at some point) and definitely not a time for crafting, but it was a week to celebrate being together with family, in various combinations. We spent some time with mine, some time with Sean's, and some with all of them together. In fact, this past weekend was the first time that our two boys were with all four of their grandparents at the same time. I wish it happened more often.

In the earlier part of the week, we rented a beautiful little cabin in the Galena region of northwestern Illinois and spent a few nights there with my mother and father-in-law. We often rent vacation homes together, so we've learned a few tricks over the years. One of the most useful things I've learned, especially since having kids, is that it's a good idea to have a meal ready for the first night. After multiple hours on the road, no one (particularly the one-day-short-of-two-year-old) feels like using restaurant manners. So I made a casserole over the weekend, froze it, and stuck it in the oven upon arrival in Galena. We grabbed some bread, wine, and salad on our way into town and had a delicious meal together.

This is one of my favorite dishes, and I remember very clearly how I first came across the recipe. Many years ago, Sean had a really fantastic graduate assistantship, wherein he worked for Family and Graduate Housing at the University planning social events for residents. There were many international students who lived in the Family and Graduate Housing apartments, and Sean spent a lot of time that year with students from all over the globe. Among them was a couple, Kostos and Angeliki, from Greece and Cyprus, respectively. In December of 2005, we were invited to their wedding celebration. It was held at a bed and breakfast in the heart of rural Illinois - really, it wasn't close to anything or anyone else. The woman who did the cooking worked very hard to research and prepare Greek dishes for the event, and I absolutely fell in love with this vegetarian take on moussaka.

This recipe does take a bit of time to prepare; I generally roast the eggplant a day in advance to break it up a bit. The moussaka can be frozen, but I have found it is best to defrost it before baking. This is a very rich dish and perfect served with thick slabs of bread for sopping up the juices.


Vegetarian Moussaka
Adapted from Bon Appetit


3 lbs. eggplant, unpeeled and cubed
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 cup finely chopped peeled carrots
1 cup finely chopped celery
4 garlic cloves, minced
12 oz. portobello mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed, and diced
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 cup grated Parmesan
4 oz. diced feta cheese

6 tbsp. butter
7 tbsp. flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten

Cover 2 baking sheets with paper towels. Sprinkle eggplant with salt. Arrange in a single layer on towels. Let stand 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove eggplant and paper towels from baking sheets. Pat eggplant dry. Oil same baking sheets. In a large bowl, toss eggplant with 1/4 cup olive oil. Arrange in a single layer on baking sheets. Bake 10 minutes. Turn eggplant and rotate pans in oven. Continue baking until tender, 10-15 minutes more. Cool. (Can be done a day in advance. Refrigerate.)

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery. Saute until onion is very tender, about 12 minutes. Mix in garlic then mushrooms. Saute until juices evaporate, about 10 minutes. Mix in oregano and cinnamon. Add tomatoes and parsley. Cook until thick, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Lightly oil 9x13 baking dish. Arrange half of eggplant in single layer in dish. Spoon half of tomato mixture over the top. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp. Parmesan and half of the feta. Repeat layering with remaining eggplant, tomato mixture, 2 tbsp. Parmesan and the remaining feta.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour.. Stir 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk. Simmer until sauce thickens, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Gradually whisk beaten egg yolks into sauce. Pour sauce over vegetables in dish. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan.

Bake moussaka until heated through and sauce is golden on top, about 45-55 minutes (longer if chilled). Cool 15 minutes before serving.

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