Vegetarian Moussaka Pie

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Eggplant Layer
3 eggplants (about 1 pound)
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
Potato Layer
3 pounds potatoes (about 9), unpeeled, scrubbed, thickly sliced
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Vegetable Sauce Layer
1 bunch broccoli
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups thinly sliced onions
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
3 cups sliced mushrooms
4 cups Tomato Sauce*
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups ricotta cheese
Cheese Topping
4 cups milk
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pepper
2/3 cup flour
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup finely grated romano
6 whole eggs, well beaten
Tomato Sauce
3 pounds ripe tomatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
Pinch salt
8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons dried basil OR 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped, fresh basil, packed
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
6 sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Deep baking dish, measuring about 12 by 16 inches.

For the Tomato Sauce:
Blanch tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds. Over a bowl, peel, core and deseed them. Chop tomatoes roughly and set aside. Strain any accumulated tomato juices from bowl; add half of the juices to the chopped tomatoes. Save or freeze the other half for recipes that call for tomato juice.

In a large, deep frying pan or pot, heat oil over high heat for 30 seconds. Add salt and stir. Add chopped garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the chili flakes and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the chili flakes and stir-fry for 30 seconds.

Add the chopped tomatoes and juices. Stir-cook until boiling. Add basil (if using dried), the vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes. Mix well, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, maintaining a steady bubbling, stirring occasionally.

If using fresh basil, add, it now to taste (no amount is too much). Stir in, and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes to develop flavor. Stir to redistribute the oil that has risen to the top, and serve immediately.

For the Moussaka:
Prepare eggplant; cut stems off eggplants. Peel a 2-inch belt of skin lengthwise down one side of each eggplant and up the other. Standing eggplant upright on stem end, and starting with a skinned side, slice each eggplant vertically into 4 slices. Each slice will have a border of skin. Sprinkle salt on both sides of all the slices and set aside.

Make potato layer: In a large frying pan heat the 1/2 cup oil on medium-high heat for 1 minute. In 3 batches, fry potato slices 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown but not necessarily cooked through. Transfer each batch as it's fried to the baking dish, arranging the potatoes in a single layer covering the bottom of the dish. Discard excess oil.

Make the vegetable sauce: Cut off the bottom half of the broccoli stalks and reserve for another use. Separate the rest into branches, and boil on high heat for 4 minutes. Drain, refresh with iced water, drain again, and chop finely. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add salt and pepper and stir. Add onions, green and red peppers, and stir-fry for 4 to 5 minutes until well wilted. Add sliced mushrooms and fold in, stir-frying for 3 to 4 minutes, until everything appears moist and shiny. Transfer vegetable mixture to a bowl. Add tomatoes sauce, oregano and chopped broccoli; mix well. Spread the vegetable mixture over potatoes in baking dish, then add ricotta in generous but evenly spaced dollops on top.

Fry eggplant: In a large frying pan, heat 1/2 cup of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Quickly rinse and drain the salted eggplant slices. Fry the slices in batches, 2 to 3 minutes per side until brown. Add more oil for subsequent batches as necessary. As a batch of eggplant is ready, transfer it to a pepper towel to drain, and then form a single layer of eggplant on top of the ricotta in the pan. With the eggplant layer in place, this recipe can now wait to be completed at leisure.

Make the cheese topping: In a small saucepan, heat milk with bay leaves over low heat until hot but not scalding. Meanwhile, in a deep saucepan, stir-melt butter with nutmeg, salt and pepper over medium heat until bubbling but not browning, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add flour and stir actively for 3 to 4 minutes, until all the flour is absorbed and the mixture, or roux, has returned to a boil, sticking slightly to the pan.

Remove bay leaves from the hot milk and add milk all at once to roux, whisking until it starts to thicken. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring for 3 to 4 minutes, until the sauce is like heavy cream. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 to 6 minutes.

Add mozzarella and Romano cheeses to the sauce and whisk to mix well. Add the beaten eggs in a steady stream, whisking actively, until homogenized. Spread sauce over the eggplant layer in the pan to cover the whole surface evenly.

Bake moussaka for 1 hour, until the top is firm to the touch and browned nicely along the edges. Remove from oven and cut the moussaka into 20 slices (4 cuts vertically and 5 horizontally). Do not try to unmold; serve in the baking pan on the buffet or table, lifting portions off the pan directly onto plates.

Notes : This is a generic tomato-basil-garlic sauce that works not only with spaghetti, but with whatever recipe calls for a tomato enhancement. It freezes well, and is easy to make in large batches. It is very useful to have on hand.

Canned, whole plum tomatoes can replace fresh. Use 2 cans (28 ounces each), reserving 2 cups of the juice for use in the sauce needs thinning.

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