if you have mince and if you have aubergine, there is only one obvious thing to make - moussaka.
i have tried making moussaka in the past - using both my mum's and other recipes - but somehow the end result was never quite right: too dry and crumbly or too sloppy and wet. and the aubergine always tasted a bit how i think it does to people who don't like them: slightly spongy with hard, leathery skin.
instead of trying the same thing again, i thought i'd go straight to the source, to what is likely to have the most authentic (to me at least, if not to greeks) recipe. so i checked out my grandmother's cookery book and, of course, there it was.
there are a lot of moussakas in pata's book: with kale and chicken (sounds nice), rabbit meat (even nicer), courgettes with cheese, green beans, and so on. the idea behind all of them is the layering of vegetables and meat, and - as i discovered - generous quantities of beaten egg with creme fraiche to lubricate the whole thing. also, it's not for the fainthearted - you need a lot of olive oil to fry the aubergines.
i did change a few things - i didn't use flour and breadcrumbs for the aubergines so i just dipped them in beaten egg and fried them. i also didn't use any pork mince - she uses two thirds beef and one third pork which makes sense as it's fattier and stops the whole thing from drying out. i didn't have any so what i used was some organic, grass fed beef steak mince. it's great stuff - with a flavour totally unlike normal mince. sweeter, somehow, and also redolent of pastures and, well, cows. the kind of smell vegetarians would object to: slightly bloody, too.
this time, the end result for almost perfect. it was just slightly too wet - which is why i suggest you deseed the tomatoes below. but the flavour was amazing. i think the grass-fed meat makes a huge difference, as does battering the aubergines first. also, the whole egg-creme fraiche thing is a revelation - my mum and my grandmother would have used it a lot but it's just not something that's common here. in fact, the smell of the dish in the oven reminded me of my granny's kitchen.
a fitting end to a week which included a gig by goran bregovic. so, if you make this, eat it while listening to this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qg44qKSbsdQ&feature=related
for four (or even five if you have side veg - plain tomato salad would be nice. i had piles of quickly braised swiss chard)
4 aubergines, thinly sliced lengthwise, slightly thicker than a pound coin
750g beef mince or 2/3 beef, 1/3 pork
1 onion, finely chopped
3 ripe tomatoes, deeseded and chopped
1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped
2tbs finely chopped parsley
200ml (one small tub) creme fraiche
first, salt the aubergine slices and leave to drain for at least an hour. i have no idea if this makes any difference but i thought i'd listen to pata and do it properly.
while that's happening, fry the onions, pepper and tomatoes in hot fat - lard would be best but i used olive oil. add the chopped parsley, then the meat and fry until the meat is browned and the mixture is no longer wet. i think this would take some 10-15 minutes. make sure it doesn't dry out too much though. when it's done, take it off the heat, leave to cool a little then season and mix in one egg. leave to stand while you make the aubergines.
drain the aubergine slices and pat them dry with a kitchen paper. do it thoroughly as this allows you to skip the flouring bit - flour is used to soak up residual moisture. in a deep-sided plate or another dish, beat 2 eggs. dip aubergine slices in the egg and then fry in hot olive oil for about 2 minutes on each side, depending on thickness of your aubergine slices. they should be golden brown and soft inside. you can always take one out to taste - i see this as a chef's prerogative and think i probably ate 5 of them while cooking. obviously you'll have to do this in batches so drain the finished slices on some kitchen paper.
when it's all done, you can put the dish together. first, beat two eggs in a bowl with the creme fraiche. now use an earthenware dish or just a pyrex one, and start layering: first the aubergines, then some meat, then about a quarter of the creme fraiche mix sprinkled on top as you would in lasagne, then another layer of aubergine slices, more meat, more 'sauce', and finally the last layer of aubergines, and the rest of the creme fraiche mixture. you might need to press the whole thing down with your hands before you pour the last bit of the creme fraiche so it doesn't escape down the sides of the dish.
bake in a hot oven - 180C - for about 45 minutes or until the whole thing is golden and bubbling slightly underneath.