I love this time of year. It’s like the start of a three-month exhale, when everything that has been hazy, hot and difficult slowly comes into focus. The days are still long and light, but the air is crisper and cleaner. Finally, it is cool enough to get full again.
In the kitchen, some ingredients are beginning to wane, while others are just arriving and the shift in season always seems to bring with it a change of appetite. For weeks, dinner constituted little more than a bowl of chips and a couple of glasses of chilled rosé in the pub, cobbled-together salads and simple bowls of pasta, or even just a bit of bread and cheese, eaten standing up at the kitchen counter. Finally, the moment to take a little time over cooking has returned.
Moussaka seems the perfect choice for this time of year, when summer’s dissipating heat is punctuated by sudden showers and chilly breezes. The aubergine, tomato, oregano and basil ensure that it tastes unmistakably of sunshine, but the dish is warming enough to see you through a damp evening. Serve it with a big green salad dressed with lemon and olive oil.
Prep time: 20 minutes | Cooking time: 3 hours 45 minutes
- Olive oil, for frying
- 2 red onions, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 lamb shoulder
- 150ml red wine
- 680g passata
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- ½ nutmeg, grated
- 2 large aubergines, thickly sliced
- 4 potatoes, thinly sliced
For the béchamel
- 500ml whole milk
- 60g butter
- 60g flour
- 50g parmesan
- ½ nutmeg, grated
- Salt and pepper
- 100g feta, crumbled
- A handful of basil, to finish
- Preheat the oven to 150C/gas 4.
- Set a large casserole pan (the kind with a lid) over a medium-high heat. When the pan is piping hot seal the meat on all sides, then remove to a plate.
- Turn the heat down and add a glug of oil. Fry the onions with a pinch of salt for five minutes, or until they are beginning to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then add the oregano and cinnamon and fry for another minute.
- Pour in the wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan with your wooden spoon. Then add the passata, red wine vinegar and plenty of salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer.
- Put the lamb back in the pan, pop the lid on and place in the oven. Leave to cook for three hours, or until the meat is falling apart and can be easily shredded.
- Meanwhile, cook the aubergines. Scatter the rounds on a baking tray, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for about half an hour or until well softened but still holding their shape.
- Then make the béchamel. Bring the milk to just below boiling point. Melt the butter in another saucepan. Stir the flour into the butter and cook for a couple of minutes, then gradually whisk in the hot milk. Cook until you have a thick sauce, then stir through cheese, nutmeg and a pinch of salt.
- When the meat is ready, take it out of the oven and turn the heat up to 180C/gas 5. Shred the meat in the sauce. Take a large roasting dish and add half the aubergines in a layer on the bottom. Ladle over half the meat, then top with a layer of potatoes. Season with salt and pepper, before adding another layer of meat and the remaining aubergines. Top with the béchamel and bake for 35 minutes.
- Add the feta and bake for another ten minutes. Leave to cool a little before serving. Finish with more basil.