Moussaka is a casserole made by layering eggplant with a spiced meat filling then topping it off with a creamy bechamel sauce and baked to golden perfection. A classic summertime dish known & enjoyed by greeks and visitors alike.
While it can be time consuming to prepare, I think you will find that once complete it is a very worthwhile endeavor. You can also freeze all or part of it for later use.
I personally don't like eggplant so I usually make this dish with zucchini instead of eggplant.
For the meat sauce: Warm the olive oil in a wide casserole. Put the minced meat in, spread it and stir occasionally until it turns brown. Leave for 7-8 minutes, then add the onion and garlic and leave for another 5-6 minutes. Pour in the brandy or red wine and wait for the alcohol to evaporate. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, sugar, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Let the cinnamon give its aroma for 5 minutes and then remove. Simmer the minced meat for 20-25 minutes until its liquid is reduced.
In the meantime rinse the eggplants, remove their stem and slice in to 1/2 inch slices.Place the eggplant slices in a colander and salt them liberally. Cover them with an inverted plate that is weighted down by a heavy can or jar. Place the colander in the sink so that excess moisture can be drawn out. They will need to sit for at least 15-20 minutes, preferably an hour. The salt also helps to remove some of the bitterness of the eggplant.
Rinse the eggplant slices and dry with paper towels.Place them in a flat baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast them in a preheated oven at 200ºC (400F) for 10 minutes.
Peel the potatoes and boil them whole until they are just done. They should not get too soft, just cooked enough so that they no longer crunch. Drain, cool and slice them in 1/4 inch slices. Set aside.
Prepare the béchamel: Warm the milk in a small casserole. Stick the cloves in the onion and add it in. Do not bring to the boil. In another casserole, melt the butter gently, then add the flour gradually and, over a medium heat, whisk vigorously for 2-3 minutes, until you obtain a smooth consistency, without any lumps. Discard the onion, add milk, little by little, and whisk vigorously. Make sure each amount of milk is fully incorporated before you add the next.
Add all the remaining ingredients except eggs. Whisk occasionally (over medium heat always) for 7-8 minutes until the sauce thickens. When ready, remove from heat. Add the eggs, one by one, whisking briskly. Again, make sure each yolk is fully incorporated before you add the other. When ready, add two laddlefuls of the béchamel to the minced meat sauce and mix well.
Assemble the mousaka: Lightly grease a large deep rectangular baking pan with oil and sprinkle with baked bread crumbs. Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom, top with a layer of eggplant slices. Add meat sauce on top of eggplant layer and sprinkle with 1/4 of the grated cheese. Top with another layer of eggplant slices and sprinkle once again with 1/4 of the grated cheese. Pour the béchamel sauce over the eggplant and be sure to allow sauce to fill the sides and corners of the pan. Smooth the béchamel on top with a spatula and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese. Place in preheated oven and bake at 180ºC (350 F)for approximately 45-50 minutes or until béchamel sauce is a nice golden brown color. Allow to cool for 15 – 20 minutes before slicing and serving.
Note: You can make this dish ahead up until the béchamel sauce and refrigerate. Make the béchamel sauce right before you intend to bake it.
Also can be frozen up to a month or so. Let thaw and then bake for about an hour.