Friday, March 25, 2011

Moussaka Stuffed Baby Eggplants

When we were at the St. Lawrence Market last weekend I happened upon a bin in one of the vegetable shops with baby eggplant.  Now I know it's far from eggplant season and the chance of these beauties being local were slim to not, but they were just so cute and perfectly purple that I couldn't resist.  So I snatch up three and set about brainstorming what I could do with them.

There is a pasta dish I love, Pasta ala Norma, which calls for fried cubes of eggplant with penne and ricotta salata.  It's so damn good and I haven't made it in far too long, it shot right to the top of my list of uses for eggplant.  But as I looked these cute baby veggies, it just didn't feel right to dice them up.  I've been wanting to make stuffed peppers lately, which I have no idea why since peppers are on my short list of food I just am not a fan of and that's when it hit me, why not stuffed eggplant.  I love eggplant, it's sturdy enough to be stuffed and then I get that whole stuffed veggie thing out of my system with out the peppers.

But what to stuff them with? There is a plethora of options, all kinds of grains, other veggies, meats...I mean the possibilities are endless.  The problem with this whole plan is that the boy is generally not the biggest fan of eggplant, so I had to make it appealing to him.  Well he likes sauces, bechemel sauce specifically and that's how I got to Moussaka.  It was the very first dish I made for the blog, I was so new that I didn't even take a picture.  It was a pretty time intensive process to prep all the ingredients, layer them and then bake, I wondered if I could imitate that flavor experience in an easier way.  My attempt is still a bit time consuming, though not nearly as much as the traditional dish.

Moussaka Stuffed Baby Eggplants
serves 4-6
printable recipe

3 baby eggplants
2 medium Yukon Gold or other yellow fleshed potatoes (about 1/2 lb)
3/4 lb ground veal
1 tsp onion powder
3/4 tsp garlic powder
pinch cinnamon
healthy pinch of oregano
1 1/2 Tbsps tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
3 Tbsps butter
3 Tbsps flour
1 1/2 cups milk - at room temperature
1 egg
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
sea salt
white pepper

1. Wash the potatoes and cut into a 1/2" dice.  Set aside.
2. Wash the baby eggplants and cut in half the long way.  Carefully scoop out the flesh, leaving 1/2" eggplant shell.  (I used a paring knife to score where I wanted to dig out and carefully dug out the eggplant with a spoon.  A grapefruit knife would probably be more effective.  Just be careful not to break through the skin.) Roughly chop the reserved eggplant and set aside
3. Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large skillet heat a few Tbsps of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat.  When the skillet is good and hot add in the cubed potatoes, saute for 5-10 until they just start to become golden brown. Add in the chopped eggplant and saute for 5 more minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl and reserve.
4. Place the skillet back on medium heat and add in more olive oil as necessary.  Add in the ground veal and brown for 3-5 minutes.  Once it's all browned add in the onion powder, garlic powder, cinnamon, oregano and tomato paste, stir to combine.  Add in the wine, stir and let cook until the wine reduces and is gone. Taste and season with salt & pepper.
5.  Add the meat to the bowl with the eggplant and potato and gently toss to combine.  Carefully fill the eggplant shells with the mixture and place the filled shells on a cookie sheet.
6.  Heat a saucepan over medium heat, add the butter and flour and whisk to combine.  Let cook for approx 3 minutes being careful not to brown the roux.  Stream in the milk, whisking constantly until it is all combined.  Continue to whisk and cook over medium heat for approx 5 minutes until the sauce thickens.
7.  Whisk the egg in a small bowl.  Remove the sauce from the heat.  Slowly pour the egg into the pan, whisking the whole time to incorporate the egg into the sauce, if you don't whisk you will end up with scrambled eggs in the sauce. Add in the nutmeg and season with salt & white pepper to taste.
8.  Carefully spoon the bechemel over each eggplant half.  I used about 3 Tbsps each.  Transfer the cookie sheet into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until the bechemel turns golden.
9.  Remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

I love the way these cuties look.  I took the dogs on a quick walk while it was baking and I am so glad I did because I was able to appreciate way more how yummy this smelled.  It's a really versatile dish that could easily be made vegetarian by subbing in diced zucchini for the veal.  And the flavors were spot on, from the creamy Yukon Golds and Bechemel to the rich flavor or the veal and the deliciously tender eggplant from being roasted.  It all worked so well, the Boy even asked for seconds, not a normal occurrence with an eggplant dish!


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