Before I headed off to the Greek Island of Kefalonia – you know the one that Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was based and filmed, my Italian friend in London said I HAD to seek out a certain restaurant where he had tasted, and I quote, “the best Moussaka in my life”.
I didn’t need to be told twice. With no restaurant name and only scant directions to go by (on the left hand side at the top of the road as you leave the famous Myrtos Beach….. if you are interested), we did manage to find the restaurant. It was called ‘Alexandros’ and yes the Moussaka was heavenly and without doubt the best we had sampled. So much so it has inspired me to recreate it back in Blighty.
Here is a photo of the legendary Moussaka. Pipping hot in its own terracotta pot. It looks similar to an English Cottage or Shepherds pie, but don’t be fooled. This moussaka was filled with aubergine, slices of potato and delicately spiced lamb mince. Oooooh it was so good. Thanks Carlo for the tip!
Other than eating we did a lot of swimming in glorious hidden beaches or in the pool (see photos below). We were based in the north of the island in a wonderful villa in a little rural hamlet outside the charming town (although to be fair it is more of a village) of Fiscardo, which is a mecca for those who love yachting (aka my father who was with us). It’s quiet, calm and peaceful and my idea of the perfect relaxing holiday.
A short drive up the coast is picturesque Assos with it’s sheltered harbour – another great spot for swimming and for exploring it’s ruined Venetian castle on the hill facing the town.
It’s pretty remote and most of the people living there are working the ‘tourist’ season, so much so that only around 40 people remain through the winter months. We were told that in the northern part of the island (which includes Assos) around 300 hundred people remain on the island. Flights onto the island stop at the end of October and do not resume again until spring. If you need to reach the island you have to get there the old fashioned way – by boat. We contemplated for some time what it must be like to live there in a place where everything shuts down for 6 months of the year. The inhabitants must feel so isolated from the worries of the outside world. It made me think of the film ‘The Wicker Man’.
After swimming around this glorious bay I climbed up into the woods to take the photo above. I then stumbled across the sign below about 20 feet from where I was standing. Needless to say I was back in the water quick smart!
So I hope you will try my version of Moussaka. It’s delicately spiced with cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg, dried oregano and bay leaves, and similarly to Alexandros I have also added potato as well as aubergine. You can prepare most of the dish a day in advance, apart from the béchamel sauce and the potatoes, which are best prepared just before you start layering the ingredients.
So here the steps you need to take to make this deliciously Greek dish.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 bay leaves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
400g lamb mince
390g chopped tomatoes (fresh or tinned)
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp oregano
50 ml red wine
370g potatoes (I used 1 very large potato), thinly sliced
2 aubergine, finely chopped width ways
olive oil for frying
70g plain flour, sieved
50g parmesan, freshly grated
pinch of salt
pinch of ground nutmeg
600 ml milk, warmed
2 eggs, whisked
1. Warm the olive oil in a large pan and then add the onion and gently cook for 5 minutes, before adding the garlic and cooking for a further minute.
2. Add all the spices and bay leaves and stir into the onion and garlic. Now add the lamb and use a wooden spoon to break up the mince. Stir well.
3. After 10 minutes the lamb should now all be brown, with no pink meat remaining. If there is any pink meat cook for a little longer.
4. Add the tomatoes, sugar, red wine vinegar, red wine and stir into the mince. Leave to simmer for a further 15-20 minutes, then leave to cool.
5. In a separate pan boil some water and place the sliced potatoes into the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes. You do not want the potato to be soft, instead take it out of the water just before it becomes soft. Strain and place in a bowl of cold iced water to prevent it cooking further. Place to one side.
6. In a large frying pan add a little olive oil and then place some of the sliced aubergine in the pan to bronze. It is best to do this in batches. You will find that the aubergines will probably need a little more oil during cooking as they do tend to soak it up fast. After 5 minutes turn and fry for a further 5 minutes so that both sides have begun to bronze. Remove from the pan and place on kitchen paper.
7. To make the béchamel sauce, heat the milk in a pan to warm – although do not boil it. Then place in a pouring jug.
8. In a separate pan add the butter and when it is melted add the flour and stir together. Gradually add the warm milk, stirring each time some more milk is added. Add a pinch of salt and ground nutmeg followed by half of the parmesan cheese. Simmer gently for a few minutes, by which time the sauce will be thick. Leave to cool.
9. Once it has cooled add the eggs and stir into the sauce.
10. To layer up the moussaka, first add some of the aubergine so that it coves the bottom of the dish. The dish I use is 12×9 inch. Then add half the mince followed by the potato, followed by the rest of the mince and another layer of aubergine. The final topping is the béchamel sauce, which completely covers all the other ingredients. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan on the top.
11. Place in a preheated oven at 180 degrees and cook for 35-40 minutes when the top begins to bronze.
Serve once it has begun to cool slightly as it will be very hot when it comes out of the oven.
Happy Holidays everyone.