Cheats’ Moussaka

A restaurant described Moussaka as a lamb and aubergine pie … well, I suppose it is sort of, but of the many variations I’ve never had it topped with pastry. The whole fandangle takes some effort, so here’s the quickie version – well, at least to prep, it still takes 40 mins in the oven.
You need a really rich lamb mixture: fry off the minced, lean lamb and put aside giving a chance to reduce the fat further. Clean out the pan and soften onions, peppers, maybe a slice or two of fennel, celery and when soft add the meat back. Add tomatoes, fresh skinned or tinned (passim) and a smidge of tomato paste. I usually add ginger, garlic, thyme, rosemary and parsley as the base flavours, pimento and chilli flakes can spice it up a bit. Leave to bubble away merrily.
Slice your aubergine, circle, cross lengths, long lengths, whatever will fit your deep dish. You can salt them and dry them but I’ve never noticed the difference. Fry them off and as you do so layer them in the dish: aubergine at the bottom, then the mince, more aubergine, more lamb, finally aubergine. Then my cheats’ topping.
For a four person dish you need half a large pot of plain yoghourt (low fat’s fine) into which beat three nice eggs (a couple if you use duck’s), plus salt and pepper. Now pour the mix onto the last layer of aubergine – it should be quite thick. Slip a knife down the side of the dish at intervals to give the topping a chance to slither down the side – it looks very attractive if you are using a clear soufflé dish for example. Then – most important – lots and lots of grated nutmeg, and nothing but the real thing, ready ground is just sawdust.
Forty minutes at about 160 and the topping will brown, rising like a soufflé itself. You should be able to take out a slab in a whole piece, spooning out any reluctant lamb. Serve with steamed veg.

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Half a lamb shoulder


Not a piece of meat I’d seen before and not from Mopsa, so assumed it needed a bit of help to be tasty. It looked at though it would take a good stuffing so the end bone removed, and a bit of judicious trimming and bashing (rolling pin does fine) and there’s something resembling a flat, oblong piece of lamb.
Over to the Magimix with its small bowl. First some fresh crumbs from a very tasty rye sourdough: put aside. A smallish onion and two garlic cloves wizzed small and tossed into a pan with some oil. Followed a few minutes later with a handful of finely chopped mushrooms.
When very softened, the vegetables and the crumbs are combined with some dried rosemary (crumbled in) and the juice of half a lemon. Lots of seasoning.
The lamb was stuffed and tied into a roll – looked like it would do a generous three when sliced.
It weighed about 1kg, so an hour at 180, plus a rest. A tray of chopped veg (fennel, courgette, peppers, aubergine, red onion, garlic – coated first in a bowl with olive oil) sat on top in the small oven.
The gravy (juices, red wine and v old home made chutney) finished it all off.

The Art of Festering – and nearly instant food

Mentioned this notion before: that some things are best left to their own devices to develop taste and unctuousness by natural processes. This is probably akin to the biological and physical actions called ‘rotting’ in other situations, but let’s not dwell on that.
Supper tonight was a perfect example of many things: the virtue of making a curry from the finest ingredients (in this instance the remains of a leg of lamb that had first been baked on a bed of vegetables to which a can of beer had been added; plenty of herbs and three hours on a very low oven – thank you for the inspiration Rick Stein), not eating it all at once (another virtue indeed), and the festering effect of freezing.
I hope no-one out there’s in the camp that decries microwaves and freezers as devices of the culinary devil. For us they are essential to eating well, cheaply and sometimes fast.
So take the curry: one click top box full of lamb with aubergine and defrost, along with a couple of portions of frozen mixed rice (wild, brown and organic white) cooked to store a week ago. Now, there were last night’s left over potatoes (red salad ones as it happens) and they got diced and thrown into the lamb to reheat.
Now this sort of meal can easily be lacking the fresh veg we need – so I made large bowl of raita: peel and chop half a cucumber; finely chop about a third of a red onion; sprinkle with salt; then fold into thick plain yoghourt. Now you don’t want anything too posh for the yoghourt: it mustn’t have any sense of sweetness for my taste, so the extraordinary River Cottage yoghourt that tastes as though it’s made from double cream is no good. Sprinkle on a quarter teaspoon of garam masala and a pile of chopped coriander and you’re done.
Make sure curry and rice are piping hot. Serve in deep bowls and feast. Chapatis, nan breads et al will bulk out the fibre if you need too …. but they really need to be home made so no time tonight ….