It’s misleading to talk about “farm-to-table” cuisine. Farm-to-table is a way of cooking, relying on locally sourced and mostly seasonal ingredients, that can support any cuisine. Sometimes the ingredients for particular types of cuisines may not be readily available locally, but remember, every little bit counts. I can make my mother’s southern homestyle fried chicken with local poultry and her macaroni and cheese with local cheddar cheese, milk, and eggs, but the macaroni is going to come from the grocery store. Likewise, I can make all sorts of taco and tamale fillings from local ingredients, but I buy masa harina or tortillas from the store because there are important differences in the kind of corn used and the process for preparing it.
I learned how to make this moussaka from my father-in-law, a first-generation Greek American cook and restaurateur. Over the years, I’ve found that Greek and Turkish dishes lend themselves very easily to local sourcing. In this recipe, I generally use regular store-bought flour for a smooth béchamel sauce, but Daisy pastry flour, which is milled from locally grown wheat, should work just as well. I have yet to find a local cheese that is a good substitute for Parmesan, but everything else, save the pepper and nutmeg, can be found right here in our own backyard.
4 tablespoons butter or margarine<moved here since mentioned first in recipe>
1 pound ground beef or lamb
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2-3 large ripe tomatoes, diced
¼ cup good red wine
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 large eggplant
Olive oil or nonstick spray
6 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups warm milk
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Heat a large skillet to over medium-high heat, add the butter or margarine, and brown the ground beef or lamb with the chopped onions. Add the parsley, tomatoes, wine, salt, and pepper and lower heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
While the meat is simmering, strip off the eggplant skin with a vegetable peeler, then slice the eggplant lengthwise into ½-inch slices. You should have 8-10 slices. Lay the eggplant slices out on two baking sheets and lightly coat each side of the slices with a few drops of olive oil or cooking spray. Put the sheets in the oven and monitor the eggplant as it bakes, turning the slices once or twice until they are soft but not falling apart. This should take about 5-8 minutes on each side.
Lower the oven to 350°F. Spray a deep 8-inch square casserole dish with nonstick spray. Place a layer of eggplant slices on the bottom of the casserole dish and sprinkle with salt. Spread half the meat filling on top. Add another layer of eggplant with a sprinkling of salt. Cover with the remaining meat filling, and finish with a final layer of eggplant. Set aside while you make the cheese soufflé topping.
In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth. Slowly pour in the warm milk, whisking to blend. Continue cooking and whisking over medium heat until the mixture thickens, 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in the beaten eggs thoroughly, then add the cheese and nutmeg. Pour this mixture over the casserole, covering the entire surface, but be careful not to overfill.
Bake 35-45 minutes, until the topping has puffed up and browned. Remove from oven and let stand at least 30 minutes before serving. It is excellent made a day ahead and reheated. Serves 4-6.
From “The Chesapeake Table: Your Guide to Eating Local,” Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018.