And I’m upping my game! When cooler breezes flurry and crimson leaves begin to fall from the trees my thoughts turn to….cheese.
Why is it that cool weather gives you permission to eat melty cheesy things? It’s like a right of passage.
You turn your nose up to a melty, crisp, gooey grilled cheese sammich in June, but you’ll take that sammich and cram it with more and more cheese in October.
You’ll eat fresh broccoli bathed in only lemon juice and pepper in July, but come November that broccoli is smothered in cheese sauce and topped with butter cracker crumbs.
No shocker….This is how it should be!
Garden fresh veggies tossed in olive oil and garlic, served over thin pasta noodles is a perfect summer supper, while December suppers by the fire require a cheese-filled pasta side dish or better yet a must-have cheese-stuffed casserole. Fall is like a cheese pass aboard the all-seasons train!
I came across ground lamb in the butcher section of the grocery store and it hit the old casserole nerve.
Moussaka is a combination of eggplant, a rich lamb ragù, and a cheesy topping.
The best part is that you can prepare this in advance when you have time (and the inclination strikes) and bake it when the need arises.
I’ll be adding a few of my favorite cheesy casseroles over the next few weeks. Why not…Fall just got here!!
Think lasagna with eggplant instead of pasta, lamb in place of beef, and you have the essence of this Greek-inspired dish. Feel free to add your favorite veggies to the sauce. With this casserole, anything goes.
3 large eggplants, peeled and sliced into ½-inch thick lengths
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
½ cup olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced, about 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried cumin
For lamb ragù:
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced into ½-inch squares (about 1 cup)
2 large carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
2 pounds lean ground lamb
1 cup red wine
1 (16-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cinnamon stick
For béchamel topping:
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 cup ricotta cheese
4 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese (about ½ cup)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Makes: 6 to 8
Time: 45-minute cuisine plus baking for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425°.Season the eggplants with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place into a colander for 30 minutes to exude excess moisture. Stir together ½ cup olive oil, garlic, oregano, and cumin. Brush both sides of the eggplant with the seasoned olive oil. Place onto a baking sheet and roast until the slices are tender and golden, about 30 minutes. The slices can overlap. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°.
Heat 2 more tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet. Cook the onion and carrots until soft and golden, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the lamb to the pan. Cook, breaking up the meat with a spatula until browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir in the wine, tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, and cinnamon stick. Simmer the ragù for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the cinnamon stick.
Heat the butter in a deep pot over medium high heat. Whisk in the flour. Cook until golden and bubbling, about 2 to 4 minutes. Pour in the milk. Cook, stirring constantly until the sauce is thickened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses. Season with ground nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
Assemble the casserole by placing a layer of eggplant slices in the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Top with half of lamb ragù. Add another layer of eggplant and another layer of lamb. Finish with a layer of eggplant. Top the casserole with béchamel sauce. Bake until the casserole is bubbly, and the top is golden, about 30 to 40 minutes. Allow the casserole to sit for 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh mint.