September is a month I’ve always loved. As a kid I was a big back-to-school fan. The local school supply sale was a huge event and I’d have my backpack packed and pencils sharpened weeks before the big day. In college I couldn’t wait to head back to the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan for a new semester. It took years post-graduation to shake that fish out of water feeling sitting in conference rooms working instead of coffee shops studying come Fall.
Nowadays I associate September with a wider net of things. The painful memories of 9/11/01. The US Open. Braking for school buses. Realizing I’ll need to start wearing socks again soon. Apples everywhere! It’s a segueway into Fall. And in the foodie world, segueway-ing into Fall is a fantastic thing. September is particularly special because you can still enjoy the best of both worlds – the summer harvest – and your oven! Comforting almost-autumn dishes like this one take the chill off these cooler nights. This Greek Moussaka casts eggplant in the starring role, my absolute favorite summer harvest vegetable.
Notice the next time you’re at the market – you’ll probably see an array of eggplant on display. Everything from classic globes to long skinny Japanese eggplant, egg-shaped dark purple baby eggplant, sometimes even white and purple graffiti or ‘zebra’ striped eggplant, which is a Sicilian variety. Any way you shape it, I love it. Though I do shy away from the super-sized traditional globes. More is not more with eggplant, as the bigger the eggplant the deeper the seed pockets are, which can taste bitter. This is why some recipes call for salting the eggplant ahead of cooking – to eek out some of that bitterness. I like to skip that step by choosing smaller globes or other varieties.
I’ve come to associate Greek Moussaka with September because I always seem to make it around Labor Day. It’s basically a Greek version of lasagna, combining sweet roasted eggplant with cinnamon-infused ground lamb cooked with tomatoes and spices. In this version, I lighten it up by replacing the traditional heavy bechemel that tops off the dish with a dusting of simple fresh breadcrumbs, which bring terrific crunch. I also depart from the norm by adding a nutrient-packed layer of sauteed Swiss chard right in the middle. And finally, I bake the eggplant slices verses frying them in loads of oil. I serve this with toasted garlic bread and a big Greek salad and I am in foodie heaven.
I will warn you there are a couple of steps, since like lasagna it’s a layering of different components. But the recipe yields a good 6-8 servings so you’ll have meals for the week — and the recipe can be easily doubled if you want to make two and freeze one for another week. I actually halved the original recipe, which called for 2 pounds of lamb, as I found with the addition of the chard and all the eggplant this was just plenty, and a great way to stretch a pound of meat into a couple night’s worth of supreme eating.
- 2 larger or 3 medium-small eggplants, peeled
- Kosher salt/black pepper
- Olive oil
- Cooking spray
- 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced and divided
- 1/2 lemon, very thinly sliced
- 1 Tbs fresh oregano, chopped
- 2 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 Tbs tomato paste
- 14 oz crushed or diced tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- 2 big bunches green Swiss chard
- 8 oz feta cheese
- 1 cup fresh grated Parmesan
- 1 cup fresh bread crumbs (remove crust from 2 thick slices day-old bread and whirl in food processor)
1. Preheat oven to 400. Cut peeled eggplants into 1/2″ thick circular slices. Season eggplant slices lightly with salt and pepper on both sides. Drizzle generously with olive oil and lay eggplant in a single layer on two baking sheets sprayed with cooking spray (i.e. PAM). Bake 15-20 minutes, flip slices, rotate baking sheets, and continue baking another 15-20 minutes until eggplant is browned and soft. Remove from oven and set aside.
2. In a deep-sided skillet, add 2 Tbs olive oil and saute the onion 3-4 minutes until softened. Add half the garlic and saute 1 minute while stirring. Add the lemon slices, oregano and parsley and stir to combine. Add the lamb, stirring to break up the meat. Season with salt and pepper. Toss in the cinnamon stick. Stir in tomato paste and tomatoes. Simmer until the liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally, about 20-25 minutes. Remove lemons. Turn off the heat and set aside.
3. Heat 2 Tbs oil in a second medium skillet. Add the remaining garlic and stir 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the chard, tossing with tongs until wilted, 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice (from remaining lemon half) and set aside.
4. Reduce oven temperature to 350. Line the bottom of a medium sized baking dish sprayed with PAM with 1/3 of the eggplant slices. Spread 1/2 meat mixture over the eggplant. Spread all the chard evenly over the meat layer. Sprinkle with half the feta and parmesan. Layer another 1/3 of eggplant slices. Spread remaining meat mixture over. Repeat with cheeses. Layer final 1/3 eggplant and top with fresh bread crumbs. Bake 30-40 minutes until the top is golden. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.
Serves 6. Terrific with garlic bread and Greek salad.
Recipe can easily be doubled for a larger crowd – use a large, deeper baking dish in that case or two medium-small baking dishes.
Recipe adapted from Tyler Florence via Food Network.com