The smell of fresh green garlic has been wafting through the markets. The stinging, sharp smell is so wonderful and pungent that the market has no room for any other smells. Right now, during the very short season for green garlic, is the perfect time for preparing moussaka.
It was springtime, in a small restaurant on the shores of Lake Lesbos. A small earthenware dish was brought to our table with the most wonderful aroma. It was the moussaka of your dreams. Like all moussaka, this was also made from layers piled on top of each other. But this time they were not greasy but layers of happiness and gentleness, filled with the tastes and smells that words cannot describe.
The bottom layer was made with thin and tender slices of potato, which happily absorbed all the sauce. Roasted eggplants with the wonderful taste of a smoky grill were laid on top of that, well-supported by the layer of meat laid above – the jewel in the crown. The tender lamb was cooked in white wine, roasted vegetables and green garlic; a hypnotic combination that made the entire dish known as moussaka into something that’s worth dedicating two hours in the kitchen to.
And that’s not all. Above the layer of lamb came a generous layer of Béchamel sauce, made from fresh cream and tangy cheese, which encased all the layers with a pleasant tenderness. Just like an airy and comfortable down duvet, the Béchamel sauce layer protected the meat layer to keep it juicy and tender.
Don’t tarry! The green garlic season is short and it will end soon.
And something else, too: In order to preserve the freshness of the green garlic, it should be stored in the refrigerator immediately after it is purchased; otherwise it will dry out and lose its young flavor.
Lamb and green garlic moussaka
When the moussaka comes out of the oven it is tender and full of liquids, so if you serve it immediately it falls apart when you cut it. Don’t worry, the taste is wonderful, although the appearance is less so. In order to keep it from collapsing, it must be prepared in advance so it can firm up in the refrigerator.
Ingredients (for 8-10 servings)
Pan – 25x30 cms
4 firm medium-sized eggplants
4 heads of green garlic, or 2 heads of regular garlic
4 small tomatoes
2 red onions
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
3 or 4 medium-sized potatoes
For the meat:
2 tbsp. olive oil
750 grams of lamb or ground beef, preferably half and half
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups tomato juice
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. oregano
3/4 tsp. black pepper
3/4 tsp. ground English pepper
Pinch of chili flakes
For the Béchamel sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 clove crushed garlic
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (70 grams) flour
3 cups milk
2 tbsp. finely grated Parmesan
Heat the oven to broil (grill). Lay the eggplants, heads of garlic, tomatoes and onions (with the peel) in the roasting pan, lined with baking paper.
Pierce the eggplants with a fork in a few places, so that they won’t explode. Sprinkle olive oil on the garlic, tomatoes and onions, salt them a little and roast close to the upper heating element for 15 minutes. Turn the eggplants over (the rest of the vegetables should not be turned) and grill for another 15 minutes.
Take the vegetables out of the oven, cut the eggplants lengthwise while they are still hot, and separate the inside of the eggplant from the skin using a wooden spoon. Transfer the eggplant to a strainer placed over a bowl, and let the bitter liquids drain out for at least 30 minutes.
In the meantime, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/2 centimeter circles. Place them in a medium-sized pot, fill with cold water, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring it to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes (about halfway) and turn off the flame. Leave the potatoes in the water until they are used.
Preparing the meat layer:
Peel the onions and tomatoes, cut them into large pieces and put in the blender. Squeeze the garlic heads into the blender so only the cloves are in the blender. Add tomato juice and blend well.
Heat up a frying pan with oil and fry the meat until it browns a little and crumbles. Pour in the wine, boil and cook for 2 minutes, while stirring constantly.
Add the contents from the blender and bring it to a boil. Add spices, mix, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Preparing the Béchamel sauce:
Mix the olive oil, butter, garlic and salt on a medium flame. Add flour and stir well for 2 minutes. Pour in the milk and stir with the help of a whisk until the Béchamel is smooth, without lumps and is thick like sweet cream (this takes about 5 to 7 minutes). Do not let it boil. Add the Parmesan, stir and turn off the flame.
Assembling the moussaka:
Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease the pan with olive oil and place the potato slices on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with a small amount of olive oil and salt. Place the eggplants on top of this and sprinkle with olive oil and salt.
Pour the meat layer on and spread it evenly. (If a great deal of liquid has collected in the sauce, it is recommended to spoon it out with a slotted spoon so some of the liquid remains in the pot.) Stir the Béchamel sauce well and pour it on top.
Bake uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes, until the Béchamel sauce becomes slightly golden brown. It is recommended to prepare in advance and reheat before serving, so it does not fall apart.