The current issue of Saveur magazine (October 2009, #123) offers a paean to luscious lamb flesh. Given my long-standing love of lamb, I had to whip up a sheepy treat to show off Loncito’s grass-fed Texas lamb. Available at both Sunset Valley Farmers Market and the Austin Farmers Market for $6.50 a pound (ground).
Unabashedly eggplanty, this dish won’t fool any aubergine-loathers. But if, like me, you can’t get enough of those glossy globes, you’ll enjoy the unctuousity they bring to this casserole.
MOUSSAKA-ESQUE makes a 9″ X 13″ panful I’d say that’s about a dozen servings
- 3 good sized local globe eggplants—about 2 pounds. Hairston Creek Farm is still selling the shiny, inky beauties.
- 3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- plenty of olive oil, organic or local (Texas Olive Ranch)
- 1/2 pound Kitchen Pride Texas-grown mushrooms, button or cremini cut in half and sliced. You can find these at local grocery stores and at our farmers markets.
- 1 pound ground local lamb. Loncito’s and Premium Lamb will both work.
- about 1 cup finely chopped onions. You might be able to find local specimens right now. I buy organic when my local sources dry up.
- 1 big red bell pepper or a couple of ripe Anaheims. I’ve been buying golden Anaheims from Flint Rock Hill lately and they’re sweetly good.
- 6 garlic cloves, minced. This past Saturday, Morning Glory Farm was still offering local stinking roses. Otherwise, I buy domestic organic.
- 1/4 teaspoon or so red pepper flakes, according to your diners’ tolerance
- 1 large bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice—I like to crush this up fresh in a tiny mortar & pestle.
- 1 cup dry red wine. Colosi, a delicious red from Sicily, is a good value. I buy it at Central Market for $11.99 a bottle.
- 1 28-ounce can organic diced tomatoes. Sprouts is selling Muir Glen for only $2 a can.
- 1 15-ounce can organic garbanzo beans. Westbrae has been on sale at several stores lately, and both CM and WF sell their own brands for a good price.
- 1/3 cup organic raisins, chopped
- salt & pepper to taste
- 4 Tablespoons organic butter
- 6 Tablespoons organic all-purpose flour. I buy WF 365 organic for the best price.
- 2 ¼ cups milk. I buy local goat juice from either Swede Farm Dairy (available at Sunset Valley Farmers Market) or Wateroak Farms (available at SVFM and Whole Foods).
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup yogurt. I use homemade goat’s milk yogurt.
- 2 local eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
Cut your eggplants into lengthwise 1/3″ slices, cut the slices into strips and cut the strips in half, crosswise, into “batons”. Toss the eggplant pieces with the turmeric and kosher salt and let sit, re-tossing now and then, while you get the mushrooms prepped.
In a very large—6-quart if you have one—saute pan (non-stick is helpful here) heat up about ¼ ” of olive oil on high heat until the oil starts to shimmer. If your pan in smaller, fry the eggplant in two batches. Make the second batch a little smaller than the first because you’ll be adding your mushrooms to it. Add your eggplant batons to the oil and stir and fry until fairly browned. Add your mushrooms and continue to stir and cook until the eggplant is tender. Drain the whole mass in a fine sieve (I use a splatter screen) over a bowl, reserving the oil.
In the same pan, fry the ground lamb over medium-high heat, breaking up the clumps, until browned a bit. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place in a colander set over a plate or a bowl. Remove all but a couple of Tablespoons of lamb fat from the pan. I save this sheep grease in the freezer, to use in flatbreads. Add the onions and peppers to the pan and saute on medium heat until softened. Add the garlic and spices, through the allspice, and saute a minute. Pour in the wine and simmer for a couple minutes. Chop up the eggplant and mushroom mixture and add to the pan. Add the next three ingredients, plus salt and pepper to taste (at least 1½ teaspoons salt) and cook on medium-low until thickened. The timing will vary depending on the size of your pan, but expect at least 15 minutes of simmering.
In a 2-quart saucepan or saute pan (I like the larger surface area of the latter), melt the butter on medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook a couple minutes, whisking constantly, until smooth. Pour in the milk gradually but steadily, whisking all the while. Add your bay leaf and simmer, whisking frequently, until well-thickened and smooth, a few minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool a few minutes. Meanwhile, stir together the eggs and yogurt with a fork. Season your white sauce with salt and pepper and the nutmeg, discard the bay leaf and whisk in the yogurt mixture.
Preheat your oven to 400º. Brush some of the reserved olive oil (I save the rest, refrigerated, to saute veggies and lube up quesadillas) all over the inside and top edges of a 9″ X 13″ baking pan. Spread the cooked rice on the bottom and top with the lamb mixture, spreading it evenly to the sides. Depending on the depth and exact dimensions of your pan, you may find it quite full. If you can’t safely pour in the bechamel (white sauce) without an overflow, remove a portion of the rice and meat. You can feed the excess to the baby or the cook, whoever’s hungriest. Carefully pour the white sauce all over the lamb mixture. It’s OK if your bechamel brushes the top edge of the pan. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the sauce, place the pan on a baking sheet (to catch any possible overflow) and bake for 30 -50 minutes, until browned and bubbling all the way into the center. Cooking time will vary depending on the temperature of your components.
Let the casserole cool for at least 20 minutes, to allow the layers to coalesce, before serving.