Moussaka

IMAG1902This dish is easy but takes a very long time to make, so it’s probably best for a Sunday supper or a special meal. You can make it up to two days ahead, if you like, and keep it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake it.

IMAG1898To make things a bit easier, I recommend having all the ingredients mise en place before you begin cooking.

Serves 8-10, depending on how large you like your portions

3 medium eggplants, sliced crosswise 1/4-inch thick
1 1/2 Tbsp. salt
1 medium baking potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup olive oil
1 cup flour
2 medium onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. lean ground meat (lamb or turkey)
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
35 oz. canned peeled tomatoes, drained well and chopped (I puncture the tomatoes with my thumb in the colander, then lightly squeeze them to drain them further)
2/3 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
2 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream (you can use regular cream or even half-and-half if you want to lighten things a little)

Place the eggplant slices on paper towels and sprinkle with the salt. Let stand for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in medium saucepan boil the potatoes until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oven to 350F/175C degrees.

Pat the eggplant dry with paper towels. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 of the oil over high heat. Dredge the eggplant slices in the flour; shake off any excess. Add the eggplant to the skillet in batches and fry over high heat, using more of the oil as necessary, until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Remove and let drain on paper towels.

Add to the skillet about 3 Tbsp. oil and turn the heat to moderate. Add the onions and garlic and cook until translucent. Add the meat and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until no trace of pink remains.

Drain the meat if necessary (for turkey, I didn’t have to), then return it to the pan. Stir in the tomato paste, cinnamon, thyme, and pepper. Cook for another minute, stirring to blend the flavors. Tranfer to a large bowl and add the tomatoes, potatoes, and feta and stir well to combine.

Line the bottom and sides of a 5- to 6-quart shallow baking dish (I used a 12×15-inch pan) with eggplant, overlapping them slightly. Reserve some slices for the top.

Spoon the meat mixture into the baking dish. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and cream, then pour it over the meat. Cover with the reserved eggplant slices, overlapping them slightly if you can. (The moussaka can be prepared ahead until this point.)

Bake until the top is nicely browned, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Squash Casserole with Cornbread

It took me a long time to find a squash casserole recipe that was actually a casserole and not just another way to cook squash. I was through with baking the squash in sour cream or under melted cheese; even with breadcrumbs, they just came out in a limp spoonful on the plate.

I found plenty of recipes that promised me what I wanted — a big, hearty. main-dish sized casserole — but they all seemed to be loaded with bad stuff. Condensed cream of mushroom soup and whole sticks of butter are delicious, but I was looking for something healthier. And I didn’t want to drown out the flavor of the wonderful yellow squash.

Bingo. After trying several recipes and tossing aside a dozen more, I found what seems to be the copy-cat recipe for a squash casserole at a U.S. restaurant chain. I don’t know if it’s the real thing, but it was the winner for me. The big difference with the others is that it calls for cornbread, which adds a nice amount of sweetness and enough volume to ensure a big, hearty (and not so unhealthy) casserole.

A note on the cornbread: The recipe calls for Jiffy corn muffin mix, which may not be available where you live, but you could easily use another cornbread mix or even your own recipe. Here’s one from Paula Deen I found in a quick search just now that could probably work.

Serves 8
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
6 regular-size yellow squash, diced
1/3 cup butter
1 regular-size yellow onion, diced
1 Tbsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. dried thyme
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 chicken boullion cubes
2 cups canned corn kernels
8 oz. mild cheddar cheese, grated

Prepare cornbread mix as directed for an 8×8-inch pan and let cool.

For the casserole, preheat oven to 350F/175C degrees. Grease a large casserole dish and set aside.

Place diced squash in a large saucepan, cover with water, then bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes, just until tender. Remove from heat. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

Place the butter in a large saucepan on medium heat, then saute the onions until translucent. Add salt, pepper, thyme, parsley, and bouillon cubes and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat.

Add drained squash, corn, and cheese, and stir to combine. Crumble cornbread and add to the mixture, then pour in the reserved water and mix well.

Pour mixture into prepared dish and cover. Bake for 50 minutes, then remove cover and continue baking for another 10-20 minutes, until lightly browned or you just get too hungry to wait any longer.

NOTE: I halved this recipe and baked it in a 7-inch round cake form with good results. Also, the recipe can be made ahead — prepare and pour into the casserole dish, then refrigerate or even freeze until ready to bake (though if you freeze it, make sure to thaw it before you put it in the oven).

Swiss Chard & Sausage Lasagna

This lasagna is simply amazing. It tastes as special as the name implies, with a few small ingredients making the difference to the overall flavor. It is also straightforward to make — if you plan well. (More on that below!)

The recipe had been sitting loose in my binder since I ripped it from a magazine a couple of years ago. I plugged away at it quite happily until I realized it was from Martha Stewart Living. I never have luck with her recipes, and I was sure it would be a disaster, now that I noticed it was hers. But I was so far down the road at that point that I had to finish, and I’m happy to say it is now my first Martha Stewart recipe success.

One note about the cheese: It calls for fontina, which I couldn’t find when shopping, and I was at a loss to think of a substitute. (There probably isn’t one.) It sounds terrible, but I ended up using sliced white American cheese because I unapologetically like it and thought it would melt well. It was fine. I would use fontina if I can find it in the future, but I wouldn’t be ashamed to use white American again.

Use a 13×9-inch pan.

For the filling:
14 oz. lasagna
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/4 lbs. sweet Italian sausage, casings removed and meat crumbled into pieces (in a pinch, I used bratwurst sprinkled with oregano)
3 lbs. Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
3 shallots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest (crucial!)
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

For the bechamel:
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 onion, diced fine
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (crucial!)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 1/2 cups milk
8 oz. fontina cheese, grated

With a baby around, I had to make this in distinct stages, which may also be useful for people without a lot of time on their hands in general. Here are the steps I used:

1. Get everything prepared: Take the sausage from its casings and crumble it into a bowl. Wash and drain the Swiss chard, trim and cut it, then put it in a bowl. Cut the shallots and garlic and put them into another bowl. Grate the lemon zest, then put it into a small bowl with the salt and pepper. Cut the onion for the bechamel sauce and save it separately.

2. Cook the noodles: Put the lasagna noodles into a large pot of boiling water for nine minutes. Remove the noodles immediately so they don’t stick to each other, and set them aside. (If it will be more than a few hours until you use them, put olive oil in your hands and stack the cooked noodles so a little bit of oil gets smeared on each one, then refrigerate.)

3. Cook the fillings: Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Fry the sausage until browned, then transfer onto a paper-towel-lined plate. Reduce heat to medium and add the shallots and garlic to the drippings in the pan. Cook until softened, about 4 minutes, then add the chard. Cook, stirring frequently, until it just starts to wilt, then add the lemon zest with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the chard wilts completely. Stir in lemon juice, then drain in a colander.

4. Bechamel: Once you cook this, you must immediately proceed to step 5 and bake the dish, otherwise the sauce will be ruined. So melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, salt, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are slightly translucent. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for a minute. Whisk in the milk a little at a time, until incorporated. Bring to a boil, stirring often, then reduce heat and simmer until thickened, stirring often, about 10 minutes.

5. Layer the ingredients in the pan: Put a small amount of bechamel in the bottom of the baking pan, tilting the pan around until the bottom surface is covered. Put down a layer of lasagna noodles. Spread half of the chard mixture evenly on top, then half of the sausage mixture, and half of the remaining bechamel. Lay down more noodles, then top with the rest of the chard, sausage, and almost all of the bechamel. Lay down the rest of the noodles, pour the rest of the bechamel on top, then cover with cheese.

Bake until the cheese is golden brown and bubbling, 30-45 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Nacho Casserole

This is a recipe I’ve had in my cookbook since sometime before 1997. Its previous title never inspired me, but tonight I decided finally to make it, to see whether I’d keep it or rip it out. The result: I’m keeping it.

I have renamed it Nacho Casserole because it really is that good — though it’s much healthier than that name implies. It takes about half an hour to make and half an hour to bake.

Serves 6

1 11-oz. package corn tortillas
1 Tbsp. margarine
3 Tbsp. flour
3/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup skim milk
1/4 tsp. salt
Pinch of garlic powder
Pinch of ground pepper
1 10-oz. can Rotel diced tomatoes with chiles
1 lb. ground turkey
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

Place tortillas on baking sheets in a single layer. Bake for 10-15 minutes, flipping them halfway through, until they’re crispy. Let cool, then break them apart and reserve. Leave the oven on.

Melt the margarine in a pot over medium heat. Add the flour and stir for a minute. Do not brown. Add the chicken stock and milk and, using a whisk, stir until it comes to a boil. Add the seasonings and diced tomatoes, mixing well. Set aside.

In a skillet, brown the turkey and chopped onions. Drain well.

When everything is cooked, lay half the tortilla chips at the bottom of a 2-quart casserole. Spread the turkey over the tortillas, add the chicken stock mixture, then sprinkle with cheese. Top with remaining tortilla chips and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Cheesy Butternut Squash and Pasta Bake

Serves 6

1.6 kilos (about 3.5 lbs) butternut squash
5 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
Handful of fresh sage (if using dried, see below)
60g unsalted butter
40g plain flour
350ml vegetable stock
300ml. double cream
50g grated parmesan
275g penne pasta
150g grated gruyere cheese

Have ready an ovenproof dish (about 2.6 liter capacity).

Peel, deseed, and dice the squashes.

Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add half the squash, season, and fry gently for about 15 minutes, turning frequently until golden and tender. If using dried sage, cook it with the squash.

Meanwhile, set the pasta water to boil. Preheat the oven to 190C/400F degrees.

Place cooked squash in a bowl and repeat with the remainder of the squash and another 2 Tbsp. of oil.

When the squash is finished cooking, add the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to the pan and add the fresh sage, if using. Cook until darkened and crisp, then set aside.

For the sauce, melt the butter in a small nonstick pan. Add the flour and cook together for about a minute, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and then gradually work in the stock and cream.

Bring back to the boil, stirring, and simmer for about 4 minutes, continuing to whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat, stir in the parmesan, and season to taste.

When the pasta is done, drain it and then transfer to the ovenproof dish. Fold in the sauce, followed by the squash and sage. Scatter the gruyere cheese on top.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until nicely golden.

Camembert, Goats Cheese, and Tomato Tart

This is an easy recipe using puff pastry. The camembert and goats cheese work together perfectly, but you can easily vary them. I made this tart when some friends came over for lunch one day, but it could also work as a savory brunch dish, or as an appetizer, cut into small pieces.

250g puff pastry, defrosted if frozen
3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard (don’t overdo this)
3 flavorsome tomatoes, thinly sliced and drained of as much juice as possible
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 large basil leaves, roughly torn
125g camembert cheese
100g goat’s cheese
2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, or 1 Tbsp. dried
Olive oil

On a floured surface, roll the pastry out large enough to line a 10-inch pie plate. Line the plate and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, then trim the pastry neatly around the edge.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F degrees. Spread the mustard all over the pastry base, then top with tomatoes in concentric circles. Season to taste and scatter the basil on top. Cut the camembert into thin slices and arrange a circle around the outer edge. Cut the goat’s cheese into thin pieces and arrange in the center. Sprinkle over the thyme and a few drops of olive oil (any more than this and the pastry will be soggy).

Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the cheese is tanned and bubbling. Best served room temperature.