Once in a while, a day springs up where everything gels together so perfectly you expect to hear a movie director announce, “Cut!” as you drift off to sleep. Hollywood magic must have been at play the day Mom and I made moussaka.
An early Saturday in October, the weather was much like this weekend –cool, clear, and generally delightful. The leaves were just beginning to crisp up, turning the colors of freshly baked bread. Nevertheless I woke up complaining. A recent college grad, I was living at home, commuting into Manhattan for a job passing out faxes at the New York Post at night. Phrases such as, “I’m fat” and “I have no life!” flew from my mouth at regular intervals. In other words, I was a joy to be around.
Somehow Mom mustered up enough patience to ignore my whining and suggested we visit Cold Spring, a beautiful town on the Hudson. We spent the afternoon tooling around shops, maintaining an ongoing patter of conversation the entire time. On the way home, stopped by a farm stand. Standing over a mound of noble-looking purple eggplants, Mom casually mentioned: “This reminds me of the moussaka I used to make back in Ithaca.” And the next thing we knew, we were heading home to make it.
Mom preferred traditional moussaka with lamb. However I was not a huge fan of meat at the time (another boon to living with me). So, she cracked open her Moosewood Cookbook, and began to edit Molly Katzen’s recipe. (Mom felt that Katzen overspiced her food to compensate for the lack of meat. Blasphemy in Ithaca.) I acted as sous-chef while Mom put the indulgent Greek casserole together. She taught me how to make the cream sauce or béchamel,as she called it, using that crappy French accent of hers. Anyway, the sauce took quite some skill. I was in awe of her finesse.
We feasted by candlelight, drinking wine far into the evening. Twas heaven.
She must have thought so too because, sure enough, a recipe for moussaka was tucked into the recipe box. Rather than messing with the Moosewood, she left me her lamb version. No doctoring required.
I had designate this weekend for moussaka, when another perfect day struck. On a lark, my family visited our friends who recently departed for the suburbs. We spent the afternoon at an apple farm, where our kids frolicked through a corn maze and gorged themselves on donuts and caramel apples. My friend Betsy and I did our best to keep up the same ongoing patter of conversation that Mom and I once shared.
This evening, my brother’s family gathered to sample Mom’s moussaka recipe. As I listened to the giggles of Jeanne’s four grandchildren, I could not help to think that she somehow played had played cosmic role in our serendipity.
Without further adieu, here is the moussaka recipe and all its magical power. Because this dish deserves a full menu and I returned from the farm with an abundance of apples, I am also including an apple recipe I found in the “box” from another old family friend, Bevy Nadel. (She was basically Mom’s Nigella). Enjoy!
This is a classic Jeanne. No formal ingredient list, and limited measurements. I improvised as best I could and included a list with measurements.
• 3-4 medium size eggplants
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 2 lb ground lamb
• 1 medium onion, sliced into thin wedges
• 3-6 plum tomatoes, sliced into wedges
• Salt and pepper
• 1 tsp oregano,
• 1 tsp parsley
• 1 tsp basil
• ½ tsp thyme (fresh is good)
• 1 ½ cup of white wine
• ¼ cup flour
• ¼ cup flour
• 1 ½ cups of milk
• 3 eggs
• 1 ½ cups of parmesan cheese
• Wash and remove ends of eggplants. Do not peel. Slice about 1/3 to ½ inch thick. Sprinkle with salt, and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Sautee in olive oil. Drain and lay in bottom of casserole dish.
• Sautee ground lamb with thin wedges of onion.
• When browned, add tomatoes.
• Add seasonings, white wine, cover and cook until sauce is reduced by half.
• Make a white sauce (rouge) in a double boiler.
Constantly stir flour and melted butter at low heat to make a roux. Gradually blend in small amounts of milk until sauce is creamy enough to coat wooden spoon. But not too thick!
• Cool sauce
• Add eggs beaten thoroughly and mix in grated parmesan cheese
• Place meat mixture over eggplant. Pour sauce over meat, then sprinkle with cheese and breadcrumbs.
• Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes until golden brown.
Bevy’s Apple Cake
6 apples pared, cored, sliced. Bevy uses Granny Smith. But I used Macoun.
5 T plus 2 c of sugar
5 t cinnamon
3 c flour, sifted
3 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 c salad oil
¼ c orange juice
1 T vanilla
Grease a 10-inch tube pan (That’s a bundt pan without the fancy designs. I used a bundt because that’s all I have. That was a mistake because the cake is not to be served upside down. Use a tube pan.)
Combine apples, cinnamon and 5 T sugar and set aside
Sift flour, rest of sugar, baking powder, and salt into large bowl. Make a well in center and pour oil, eggs, juice and vanilla.
Beat with a wooden spoon until well blended.
Spoon 1/3 of batter into greased tube pan. Make a ring of half the apple mixture, drained of excess moisture on top of batter. Try to keep apples from touching side of pan.
Repeat with another 1/3 of batter, and rest of apples and top with last of butter.
Bake 1 to 1 ½ hours until done. Cool in pan.