A fabulous party dish; assemble it early in the day, bake and brown just before serving
3 pounds eggplant
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Greek extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups minced yellow onions
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1 pound ground lamb
1/4 cup white wine
14-ounce can tomatoes in purée
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
5 cups milk, heated almost to boiling
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 1/4 cups freshly made bread crumbs
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. Slice eggplants into 1/4-inch rounds and place on sheet pans. Using 1 tablespoon of coarse salt, sprinkle salt on each side of eggplant. Set aside to sweat for 30 minutes.
2. In a large saucepan heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over moderate heat, and add onions, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of coarse salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
3. Increase heat to high, and add the ground lamb. Break up lamb with wooden spoon as it cooks. Cook until well browned, about 10 minutes. Remove as much fat from the pan as possible.
4. Add white wine and cook for 3 minutes, scraping bottom of pan to loosen brown bits. Reduce heat to low, and add tomatoes, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, thyme, oregano, nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir well, breaking up tomatoes with wooden spoon. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, add chopped parsley, mix well, and turn off heat.
5. Heat a large skillet over moderately high heat and very lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. When oil is hot, dry eggplant slices well and sauté, in batches, until well browned, about 4 minutes per side. (If it is necessary to add more oil to the skillet, add sparingly, as eggplant absorbs oil easily. Do not crowd the skillet.) Set aside cooked eggplant.
6. In a medium saucepan melt 1/2 cup butter over moderate heat. Add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking well after each addition. Cook roux gently, whisking constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes, without letting color change. Add hot milk slowly, whisking constantly, and cook over low heat, whisking frequently, for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce has the consistency of very thick cream. Season with 2 teaspoons coarse salt and white pepper.
7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs on the bottom of an 11 inch by 9 inch by 1 1/2 inch pan. Next, layer half the eggplant slices over the bread crumbs. Spread lamb mixture evenly over the eggplant. Cover with 3 tablespoons of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs. Add the remaining eggplant slices, then top with the béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bread crumbs. Dot with remaining butter.
8. Bake in preheated 350 degrees oven for 50 minutes. Before serving, brown moussaka under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes. Cut into squares and serve.
Greek restaurants have grown in popularity in America -- especially as Americans have realized that Mediterranean means more than Italian and Provencal. And the dish that tops the charts in these Greek restaurants is moussaka, that great casserole of eggplant slices, ground lamb in tomato sauce, and custard topping. It's a fabulous party dish; assemble it early in the day, bake and brown just before serving. Serves 8