As I had mentioned at the beginning of the year, making better use of my cookbooks was something I planned to do. At some point most of us get into a rut with our cooking and end up preparing the same meals more often than we intend. Cookbooks are a wonderful source of inspiration and of course, a wonderful way to introduce new dishes when planing meals for family and friends.
A long time since I last made moussaka and flicking through one of my cookbooks “Smashing Plates,” loved the idea of stuffing large hollowed out tomatoes with moussaka and topping with a béchamel sauce. The eggplant is baked and not fried so you wont end up with a greasy moussaka. No layers of potato either, so the filling is lighter. Use the largest tomatoes you can find as the recipe suggests using eight, I made about fourteen. I find beefsteak tomatoes from the supermarket tasteless so never really buy them. Also, this is a wonderful dish to make ahead.
Moussaka Stuffed Tomatoes
Recipe adapted from the cookbook “Smashing Plates” by Maria Elia.
1 large eggplant
8 large beefsteak tomatoes or the largest you can find so you may need more
1/8 teaspoon caster sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 medium brown onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
500g minced lamb
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 fresh bay leaf, optional
4 tablespoons tomato paste
50ml white or red wine, or add chicken stock or water instead
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3/4 cup chopped fresh mint
For the béchamel:
400ml full-fat milk
25g grated Kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese
How to make:
Preheat the oven to 400F/200C/180C Fan/Gas mark 6.
For the eggplant: Pierce the eggplant with a skewer or fork. Place the eggplant on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until tender. When cool, peel and dice the flesh. Set aside.
For the tomatoes: Slice the tops off the tomatoes and set aside. Scoop out the pulp into a bowl with a teaspoon (I find an apple corer helpful), but do not break through the skin. Sprinkle the insides of the tomatoes with a little sugar and place upside down on a baking sheet until ready to use. Use a pair of scissors to chop the tomato pulp finely while still in the bowl.
For the meat filling: In a large sauté pan heat the olive oil over medium heat, add onion and garlic, cook for a few minutes without browning until soft. Increase heat to high, add the lamb and cook until the meat changes color with no visible pink. Add the cinnamon, allspice, oregano and bay leaf, stir to combine. Next, add in the tomato paste, eggplant, reserved tomato pulp with juice and wine if using. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently uncovered for about 20 to 30 minutes (the recipe stated 5 minutes, but I prefer longer) for the flavors to develop and the cooking juices to reduce. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Stir in the parsley and mint, set aside to cool.
For the béchamel: Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the flour and stir continuously. Cook over medium heat until the mixture turns a light sandy color. Using a whisk, whisk in the milk a little at a time. Stir continually until the sauce thickens. Stir in the cheese and nutmeg. To stop a skin forming, cover the surface of the sauce with plastic wrap or a circle of silicone paper.
To assemble: Reduce the oven temperature to 350F/180C/160C Fan/Gas mark 4. Fill the tomatoes with lamb filling, leaving space for the béchamel sauce. Place the tomatoes into a shallow baking dish (you might need two) so they fit snugly and won’t roll over. Spoon some béchamel sauce on top of the meat filling. Place the tomato lid on top and drizzle over a little olive oil. Add about two tablespoons of water around the tomatoes in the baking dish and bake in the oven for about 35 minutes or until tomatoes are soft. Once cooked, leave the moussaka stuffed tomatoes to cool for about 5 minutes before serving. Serve with a leafy green salad.
Note: You can prepare the tomatoes, lamb filling and sauce the day before and assemble on the day. This dish re-heats successfully too.