Main Course – Lamb

Lamb and aubergine casserole AKA Graveyard Stew

This may be the recipe that started it all, but it has got me into some trouble since. When I first wrote it out, I used the quantities that I would have used once, although perhaps not now. My theory is that if you are going to mess up the kitchen, you might as well make the mess worthwhile. So I would cook for a multitude and freeze for a multitude.

Then Joe and Pearl Saragossi asked me if I had a good lamb casserole recipe. I told them about this one and promised to print out a copy. When I asked if they had enjoyed it, Joe said, “That recipe is for twenty people. Pearl and I eat very little these days.” (You can’t please all of the people all of the time!) Well, I’m not at all sure that four kilograms of lamb, including bones, would have fed twenty people, even with pigeon-sized appetites, but I do take his point. (I have, since, made it to feed twenty people, and the original quantities would not have done!)

I think it was Georgie Lewis who gave it it’s other name, Graveyard Stew. I objected to the ‘stew’ label for a while, then finally gave in to public pressure. If people like it enough to re-name it, why complain? The empty plates certainly resemble a graveyard. So, here it is, re-hashed.

By now I am sure you are well aware of my views regarding the treatment of aubergines before cooking. Unless the aubergines are old with dark, prominent seeds, they do not need to be soaked in milk or dredged in salt. Buy young aubergine, with smooth, shiny skins and cut them as you are about to use them.

The proportion of leg chops to forequarter and neck chops is not really critical. The leg chops have plenty of meat, the neck chops are full of flavour and the forequarter chops are somewhere between the two.

Oil for cooking
2 – 3 large onions, finely chopped
2 kg lamb leg chops
1 kg lamb forequarter chops
1 kg lamb neck chops
2 tablespoons plain flour
2 medium sized aubergine, young with shiny, unwrinkled skins
½ bottle of Italian pureed tomatoes
Chicken or beef stock, or a combination of the two
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
A dash of red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C. Peel and slice one of the aubergines about 1 cm thick. Drizzle a little oil into a baking dish and place aubergine slices into the oil. Spray or drizzle with more oil and bake until slices are tender. Remove from baking dish and drain on absorbent paper. Repeat with remaining aubergine. When all aubergines are cooked and drained, dice coarsely.

Meanwhile, cut excess fat from chops. Heat oil in a heavy-based frying pan and sauté onion until transparent. Transfer to a heavy-based casserole. Add a little more oil, if necessary, to the frying pan, and brown chops, in batches. Transfer chops to the casserole as they are browned. Add flour, working it down amongst the chops so that the fat on the chops absorbs it and the remainder thickens into the sauce without lumping.

Add coarsely diced aubergine to the casserole with the onion and the chops. Add a little more flour and make sure it is absorbed by the fat in the aubergine, onion and chops.

Add tomato puree, tomato paste, brown sugar, red wine vinegar and enough stock to cover. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Make sure oven is still preheated to 180C and add casserole, covered. Cook for approximately 2 hours or until the lamb is tender. (The neck chops will take the longest to cook.)

Remove from oven, cool and refrigerate overnight. Skim all fat from surface of casserole.

To serve, heat gently until casserole reaches a simmer and meat is heated through.

Many thanks to Nadine from Feast Photography for the photo.

Moussaka

Moussaka

If, like me, you thought moussaka was a Greek dish, you were wrong. It originated in Rumania, but is widely cooked in Greece and Turkey. So there is your piece of trivia for today!

Just a word about cooking aubergine, or eggplant. I had been brainwashed by cookery books to do one of two things to aubergine before cooking: either slice it and soak it in milk for an hour to remove any bitterness, or sprinkle it with salt, leave for an hour, then wash. I do not like the salt method, as no matter how much you wash the aubergine, it still tastes salty. Turkey, (where almost everything contains aubergine), was an eye opener. They do absolutely nothing to their aubergine, except wait until the very last minute to peel and slice them. Since I went to Turkey, I have not soaked an aubergine in milk, nor have I salted one, and the results have shown such precautions to be absolutely unnecessary. Don’t peel and slice the aubergine until you are ready to use it. To cater to tradition, I have included the usual instructions in the recipe. If you trust me, forget them.

Moussaka is a combination dish of layers of cooked lamb mince and aubergine topped with a white sauce flavoured with Parmesan cheese. Do not be tempted to use beef mince. The combination of lamb and aubergine was made in heaven, and beef does not come even close.

Meat Sauce:
1 kg lamb mince
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Oil for cooking
1 cup chopped, peeled tomatoes, or equivalent amount of Italian tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 large aubergine or several small ones
Oil for grilling

Sauté the onion and garlic in oil if a heavy based frying pan until transparent. Remove from pan and set aside. Increase the heat and brown the lamb mince, stirring well. Return the onions to the pan and add the tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, brown sugar and cinnamon. Season to taste. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. If you feel the meat needs thickening, make a roux of flour and butter, add some of the liquid to the roux, stir well, ensuring that there are no lumps, then add to the sauce. Stir in the chopped parsley last.

Peel the aubergines and slice into 5mm slices. Sit them in a shallow dish containing milk for about half an hour. Drain off milk, wash aubergine well and dry with paper towels.

Spray a baking dish with oil, add a layer of aubergine and spray with oil. Place the aubergine under a hot grill, and lightly brown. Turn and repeat on the other side. Repeat with the remaining aubergine. Alternatively, the aubergine may be shallow fried in oil, but they will absorb a lot of unnecessary oil this way.

Grease an oven dish (approx. 33cm by 23cm by 5cm) and place a layer of aubergine slices in the base. Top with half the meat mixture. Add another layer of aubergine, then the remainder of the meat. Finish with a layer of aubergine.

Cream Sauce:
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (more if you like a very cheesy sauce)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Make a thick white sauce using the butter, flour and milk. Add the grated nutmeg and half the grated Parmesan. Stir the beaten egg into the sauce.

Spread the sauce over the top layer of aubergine. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Preheat oven to 180C and bake Moussaka for 1 hour. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting it into squares and serving.

Many thanks to Nadine from Feast Photography for the photo.