Moussaka is probably the most famous Greek dish in the world and a great favourite of ours. However, much as we love a traditional moussaka (when made well), we love our contemporary version even more!
Here at Cucina Caruso, we don’t believe in modernising a recipe so that it bears no resemblance to its origins or that it loses its heritage of flavours and character. We concentrate on refining techniques and ingredients which are founded in the original philosophy of the dish. In other words, whenever we contemporise a recipe it always respects the original flavour but the taste is intensified and refined.
The three key ingredients of moussaka are beef, aubergines and béchamel sauce. Our first change was to make a slow-cooked beef ragout rather than the traditional minced meat. This immediately gave our moussaka a richer, meatier flavour. Next, we turned our attention to the aubergines. We adore the smoky flavour of seared aubergines, so we came up with the idea of not only using slices of fried aubergines, but also combining the flesh of smoked and seared aubergines with the béchamel sauce, as in the traditional Turkish dish, Hünkâr beğendi, thus transforming the simple béchamel into something far more mysterious and exotic.
When we were creating this contemporary moussaka for our restaurant which we had on the island of Tinos, we also decided to take a fresh approach to the assembly of the dish. Instead of layering the moussaka in a dish, as is the custom, we decided to deconstruct our moussaka, rolling up the ragù in slices of smoked aubergine, with our smoked aubergine béchamel sauce in the middle of the dish as a dip. It was a huge hit with both Greeks and tourists alike!
When making this at home, however, it makes sense to stick with the traditional layered assembly. So while your dinner guests might see what looks like a regular moussaka, the flavours will be richer, more complex and contemporary. Indeed, Moussaka al Caruso with smoked aubergines and ragout has been chosen by Neff , the kitchen appliance giant, for their worldwide recipe promotion.
This is not a technically challenging recipe but does require 4 separate parts to be prepared which takes time. Although the total cooking time is about 8 hours, the actual time that you will need to be in the kitchen working is about 2 ½ hours. Therefore it’s best to spread the cooking over 2 days and this will also ensure the best results, as the aubergines need to drain for some time and the ragout needs to rest to allow all the flavours to fully develop once it’s ready.
Ingredients for a 37Χ26 cm. roasting pan (8 servings)
For the beef ragù:
1 kg. stewing beef (preferably shank) cut in thin slices across the muscle fibres
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
100 ml. red wine
600 ml. beef stock
300 gr. chopped tomatoes (in a carton)
70 gr. tomato paste
5 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
50 ml. Greek virgin olive oil
For the smoked aubergine béchamel
100 gr. butter
100 gr. plain flour
1 lt. hot milk
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
50 gr. grated yellow cheese (Emmental or Cheddar)
2 aubergines, charred over a gas flame, peeled and finely chopped
For the aubergine layers
5 aubergines, sliced thinly
2 tbsp. coarse salt
200 ml. olive oil for frying
1. Prepare the ragù
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Sauté the carrot, onion, celery, cinnamon stick and bay leaves for 10 minutes on a low heat. Turn up the heat and add the meat. Brown on both sides for 5 minutes and pour in the wine. Simmer for 2 minutes and add the beef stock. Allow to simmer uncovered for 3-4 hours, over a very low heat, checking occasionally in case it needs more liquid. Once the meat can be shredded with a fork, add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Stir and reduce until all the liquid has evaporated for approx. 30 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Shred the meat with a fork once it has cooled.
2. Prepare and fry the aubergines
Slice 5 of the aubergines and put into a colander standing in the sink, sprinkling each layer with a bit of the coarse salt. Leave them for 30 minutes so some of the bitter juice drains from the aubergines. Rinse the aubergines thoroughly and dry with a tea towel.
Fry the aubergines in olive oil in a frying pan in batches until browned on both sides. Remove each batch from the pan when ready and place on a bed of kitchen paper to absorb as much oil as possible overnight.
3. Prepare the smoked aubergine béchamel
Blacken the 2 remaining aubergines over a naked flame, turning them every couple of minutes to blacken evenly, until the skins split, in order for the flavour to become deliciously smoky. Once cool, peel off the blackened skin (using a knife and kitchen paper or under running tap water). Chop finely.
Heat the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and stir to make a roux. Add the milk gradually, stirring constantly. Once the béchamel has thickened, add salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir. Add most of the grated cheese, stir and then tip in the chopped smoky aubergines. Mix thoroughly.
4. Assemble and cook the moussaka
In a large roasting pan, put a layer of fried aubergines, then a layer of ragù, and repeat until finished. Finally pour the béchamel over the top, sprinkle with grated cheese and a pinch of grated nutmeg and put on the middle rack of a preheated oven at 180 C. Cook for approx. 50 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow it to rest for at least half an hour before serving.
Traditionally, moussaka is accompanied with Greek feta cheese and a glass of rose or red wine.