Eggplant and Lamb Moussaka

Like lasagna, moussaka is best made two days before your party and then refrigerated overnight. The night before, bake and refrigerate it, then reheat it when your guests arrive. I like to serve moussaka straight from the baking pan.

If you are a vegetarian, omit the lamb and double the tomatoes.

Serves 6.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pound ground lamb
¼ cup white wine
2 cups fresh or canned diced tomatoes, partially drained of juice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano
2 tablespoons fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves

½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
5 cups milk
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch white pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 pounds eggplant, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

½ cup finely chopped or coarsely ground toasted bread crumbs
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 12-inch pan.

2. To make the tomato sauce: Place a large skillet over medium heat and when it is hot, add the oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook until golden, about 3 minutes.

3. Add the lamb, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon, and cook until it loses its rawness, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it has been absorbed, about 3 minutes. Lower the heat to low, add the tomatoes, tomato paste, bay leaves, cinnamon, nutmeg, oregano, and cook until it begins to thicken, about 1 hour. Remove the bay leaves, add the parsley and set aside.

4. To make the béchamel sauce: Place the butter in a large skillet and when it has melted, gradually whisk in the flour. Cook until it has the consistency of mashed potatoes. Gradually add the milk, whisking all the while and cook until smooth, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the nutmeg, pepper, and salt. Set aside.

5. While the sauce is cooking, prepare the eggplant: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

6. Toss the eggplants with the oil, salt, and pepper, and place on a baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

7. Place the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese in a small mixing bowl and toss to combine.

8. To assemble the moussaka: Sprinkle the bottom of the prepared pan with ⅓ of the bread crumb mixture, ⅓ of the eggplant slices, and ½ of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle again with ⅓ of the bread crumb mixture, ⅓ of the eggplant slices, and the remaining tomato sauce. Top with the remaining ⅓ eggplant slices and the béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining bread crumb mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and press down, allowing the layers to tighten up. Cover and refrigerate.

9. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

10. Remove the plastic wrap and transfer the moussaka to the oven. Bake until lightly browned, about 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes, cover with aluminum foil, and refrigerate overnight.

11. To reheat: preheat the oven 350 degrees. Do not remove the foil. Place the mousakka in the oven and bake until hot about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

From The $50 Dinner Party: 26 Dinner Parties That Won’t Break Your Bank, Your Back, or Your Schedule (Simon & Schuster, 1998)