Ah, September...my favorite month of the year! It is in these late summer days that all the good stuff is in season - eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, and especially tomatoes! I have a real passion for fresh tomatoes and often enjoy them best in their simple, raw state. This time of year, however, when they're so abundant that you can't always eat them fast enough, I love a good tomato sauce! You can always use canned tomatoes in a pinch, but really it's a shame not to enjoy the fruits of the season at their peak. The taste is something wholly different and completely wonderful!
This tomato sauce for the Moussaka is simple and crazy-delicious. The fresh tomatoes become rich and sweet when they simmer with the onions and butter. The sauce gets a subtle hint of spice from the cinnamon stick which adds a wonderful depth of flavor to the Moussaka. Roasted vegetables are layered with the sauce and some breadcrumbs to create this delicious summer casserole. The whole thing is covered with a velvety topping that is part bechamel part custard and turns this all-vegetable dish into something rather luxurious!
When I make this Moussaka, I like to leave all the skins on the vegetables. It gives the dish a more rustic, colorful look and also saves time, but if you prefer you can peel the potatoes and eggplant before slicing.
Eggplant, Zucchini and Potato Moussaka
9 small servings
1 medium eggplant
2 medium zucchini
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
6 T butter
6 T flour
3 cups whole milk
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
about 10 small tomatoes, blanched and peeled (or 1 28oz can whole tomatoes)
2 T salted butter
2 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 cinnamon stick
salt and pepper, to taste
First, make the tomato sauce. In a medium saucepan, heat butter and oil over medium-high until butter is melted and bubbling. Add onions and saute until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juices and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add cinnamon stick. Simmer the sauce until the tomatoes can easily be crushed apart with a wooden spoon. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens and the cinnamon stick is soft, at least 30 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick just before using the sauce.
Meanwhile, prepare your vegetables. Heat the oven to 350. Using a mandoline, slice the eggplant lengthwise about 1/8 of an inch thick. Arrange on a wire rack and sprinkle salt on both sides. Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes, then blot the eggplant dry with a towel. Slice the zucchini and potatoes lengthwise, the same thickness. Toss sliced vegetables with olive oil and arrange on baking sheets in single layers. Roast for about 15 minutes, then flip the slices over. Continue to roast until the edges become lightly golden (a little longer for the potatoes so they become lightly crispy). Remove from oven and allow vegetables to cool.
Next, make your bechamel topping. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Switch back to the whisk and slowly pour in the milk. Turn the head up slightly and whisk until sauce is smooth. Stir with the wooden spoon until the sauce starts to bubble. Cook for 3-5 minutes until the bechamel is thick and creamy. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Whisk the eggs and egg yolk in a small bowl until blended. Add to bechamel once it is only warm to the touch and whisk vigorously until well blended. Set aside.
Turn oven up to 400 degrees. In a 9x13 lasagne pan, add about 1/2 cup tomato sauce and spread evenly along the bottom of the pan. Arrange half the eggplant and follow with a layer of potatoes. Add all the zucchini, then top with half the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with half the bread crumbs, then layer with remaining vegetables. Top with remaining sauce and breadcrumbs, then pour the bechamel sauce on the top of the casserole. Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake in the oven until the bechamel is lightly golden and set, about 45-50 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes, then slice into 9 equal portions.