This is my modern interpretation of moussaka. I take meltingly tender slow-braised lamb neck and use it to fill hollowed-out eggplants. Instead of the classic creamy bechamel sauce, I add a silky smoked eggplant cream and top it all with baked ricotta. The whole eggplants are then braised in the oven.
- 4 large eggplants (8 cm at thickest part)
Braised lamb neck filling
- 25 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1 kg lamb necks, diced
- 1 brown onion
- ½ fennel bulb
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 sprig thyme
- ½ tsp rigani (dried Greek oregano)
- ½ cinnamon stick
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp sea salt flakes
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1½ tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 125 ml (½ cup) Samos muscat (see Note)
- 250 ml (1 cups) canned crushed tomatoes
- 125 ml (½ cup) chicken stock
- ½ cup diced kefalotyri cheese (see Note)
- 1½ tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1½ tbsp mint leaves, thinly sliced
Smoked eggplant cream
- 1 large eggplants
- 50 ml pure cream (or thickened)
- 2 tsp caster sugar
- 25 g unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- 250 ml (1 cup) milk
- 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ tsp smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ cup grated kasseri cheese (see Note)
- ½ cup sheep's milk feta, crumbled
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 170 g full-cream ricotta
- 80 ml (⅓ cup) natural yoghurt
- 80 ml (⅓ cup) pure cream (or thickened)
- 3 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ tsp ground white pepper
- 3 tsp cornflour
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg yolk
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Chilling time: 30 minutes
For the braised lamb neck, heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat, season the lamb with salt and pepper, add to the pan and brown all over, then remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and put in a pressure cooker.
Meanwhile process the onions, fennel and garlic in a food processor to finely chop. Add to the frying pan (used to brown the lamb) and sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes.
Add the thyme, spices, salt and pepper and sauté for 2 minutes. Pour into the pressure cooker over the lamb.
Add the pomegranate molasses, Worcestershire sauce, muscat, tomatoes and stock to the pressure cooker. Seal the pressure cooker according to the manufacturer’s instructions and cook for 20-35 minutes.
When ready, release the steam and unseal the pressure cooker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Spread the braise onto a large tray, reserving 1 cup of the braising liquid (to braise the whole eggplants later) and place in the refrigerator to cool. Stir through the cheese and herbs.
For the smoked eggplant cream, preheat the oven to 200ºC.
Place the eggplant over a flame to blister and blacken skin then roast for about 10 minutes or until tender. Remove from the oven and cool enough to handle. Peel the eggplant, discarding the skin. Place the flesh in a colander and allow to drain well.
Process the eggplant with the cream and sugar until smooth. Set aside.
Place the butter and flour in saucepan and cook for 3-4 minutes or until light golden in colour. Add the milk and cook, stirring continuously, until thickened. Stir in the nutmeg, paprika, salt and pepper, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Fold through the cheeses, eggs and eggplant purée.
For the baked ricotta, reduce the oven to 180ºC.
Whisk all the ingredients together until well combined. Pour into a well-greased 20 cm x 30 cm baking pan and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and use a cutter to cut out 4 discs the same diameter to match your eggplants. Set aside.
To assemble the moussaka, preheat the oven to 220ºC.
Trim both of each eggplant, then cut a 1 cm–thick slice from the top of each eggplant (reserve as lids). Tunnel out the centre of each eggplant, leaving a 1 cm-thick wall.
Fill the eggplant centres with the eggplant cream and braised lamb, then top with the lids. Place in a tight-fitting baking dish, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil, pour in 250 ml (1 cup) of the reserved braising liquid and bake for 20 minutes.
Top with a disc of baked ricotta and serve.
• Samos muscat is a dessert wine from the island of Samos. If unavailable, an Australian botrytis riesling would make a great substitute.
• Kefalotyri and kasseri cheese is a sheep’s milk cheese, available from most supermarkets and delicatessens.
Photography, styling and food preparation by China Squirrel.
Peter Conistis is the head chef at Alpha. This recipe is from The Chefs' Line - a brand new series airing weeknights at 6pm on SBS. Can the passion of a home cook beat the skills of a professional chef? Missed all the action? Catch-up online and get all the recipes #TheChefsLine.
This recipe has been edited by SBS Food and may differ slightly from the series.