A zillion years ago, when I was working in the Barbican I used to go to the Hat and Feathers on the corner of Clerkenwell Road for what I then thought was the ultimate in pub grub. I also felt very sophisticated when I went back home and told the folks I had been eating Moussaka, a rich mince, layered with aubergine in tomato sauce. 40 odd years ago in the north of England aubergines might as well have come from Mars as few had heard of them and they were impossible to buy.
It was several years later after I was married and moved to Newbury that I spotted aubergines for sale on the farmers market. I bought a couple and took them home. There was no such thing as the internet in those days so I spent hours scouring cook books until I found a recipe for Moussaka. The result I thought was superb, but Jim hated the aubergines so I did what I thought was crazy and swapped them for sliced potatoes. The end result is a recipe that whilst I don´t make it very often every now and again I dig out the crumpled sheet of paper, straighten it out and get transported back all those years. In recent times, I have adapted it by replacing the mince with quorn and the tomatoes with frito but it still has the rich taste of the original Greek-style dish I fell for back in the swinging 60s.
Ingredients – Serves 6
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 plump garlic cloves finely chopped
450g minced beef or quorn
100ml beef stock (from cube)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground mace
1 carton tomate frito
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 heaped tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried parsley
For the topping
300g Greek yogurt
50g parmesan, grated
Heat the oil add the onion and garlic, and fry until turning golden. Stir the meat into the pan and cook until brown. Pour in the stock then add the cinnamon and mace and mix well. Now add either a tin of tomatoes or tomate frito plus the tomato purée. Add the oregano and parsley, then simmer on a low heat stirring occasionally until thoroughly cooked, about 20 – 30 minutes
To prepare the potatoes slice into 1cm thick slices and par boil and then gently brown in a frying pan until soft. If you are using aubergines, there is no need to parboil, just slice, brush with oil and fry until soft, then set aside.
Add the meat mixture on the bottom of an ovenproof dish then a layer of potato/aubergine and continue until both meat and veg are used up. Beat the eggs and cheese into the yogurt and spread this over the meat to cover it and bake for 30 minutes until golden.
Take from the oven, cut into squares and serve with a salad.
For those who noticed that the dish with meat is different to the dish covered with sauce, I make the full quantity above as it is ideal to freeze without the topping.