Patrick Leigh Fermor's Moussaka

Patrick Leigh Fermor's Moussaka

Having read the late Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travel book called Mani,Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, I jumped at the chance of visiting his house in Kardamyli.The book is a glorious, rambling account of the rugged people and terrain of this very dry part of the mainland, with constant digressions into archaic learning, including the little-known fact that the Courtenay family of Powderham Castle in Devon were related to one of the Byzantine emperors. I spoke to his housekeeper, Elpida,who agreed to cook me the moussaka loved by the great man. She said she offered to cook it for him one day, but he said he didn’t like moussaka. She made it anyway and served it without telling him what it was. ‘That was really nice.What was it?’ he said. Hence this recipe, and its name. And it is very nice. She fries everything separately first, including the potatoes, which don’t always come as part of a moussaka. Put in the base of the dish, the potatoes act like a sponge, soaking up all the meat juices released during cooking.

For how many? Serves six to eight

Ingredients

  • salt
  • 1 aubergine, sliced lengthways
  • 3 courgettes, sliced lengthways
  • About 300ml olive oil
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and sliced lengthways
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 10g/2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 750g minced beef
  • 3 beefsteak tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 turns black peppermill
  • 100ml butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • 750ml full-fat milk
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
  • 150g graviera cheese (or Gruyère if unavailable), freshly grated

Instructions

Begin by salting the aubergine and courgette slices and leaving them for about 30 minutes, then rinse and dry on kitchen paper. Fry in plenty of the olive oil over a medium heat until lightly browned and starting to soften, then drain on kitchen paper and set aside. Fry the potatoes in the same way.

In a separate pan, heat 70ml of the olive oil and fry the onions and garlic for 5 minutes until softened.Add the minced beef and brown it before adding the tomatoes,cinnamon stick, bay leaf, ₁½ teapoons salt and the pepper. Simmer for 30–40 minutes.When done, remove the cinnamon and bay leaf.

In a deep ovenproof dish, about 24cm x 35cm, arrange the potatoes in a layer.Top with a third of the beef, then the aubergine, another third of the beef, the courgettes,and finish with the remaining beef.

Heat the oven to 220°C/gas 7.Make the béchamel sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan over a gentle heat, stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes so it loses its raw taste. Slowly incorporate the milk, and continue stirring until the sauce thickens.Remove from the heat and whisk in the eggs,nutmeg and 100g of the grated cheese. Spread the béchamel over the layered meat and vegetables and top with a further 50g grated cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, then take out and leave to cool. Serve warm.The dish is also very good the following day.

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