When I receive more than three emails from readers on the same subject—especially when they’re requesting recipes that go beyond mac and cheese or beans and rice and want more exotic fare—my interest is piqued. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of interest in vegetarian casseroles. It crossed my mind recently that casseroles have lost their place in my repertoire, and generally we seem to make them less often.
However, I’ve been mistaken before, and it looks like casseroles are returning to the spotlight. Viva la casserole! Perhaps its new-found popularity has to do with sheltering-at-home or cutting down on our weekly trips to the supermarket. It seems that using what’s in our pantries has made many of us more creative cooks. If so, I applaud you! Now you can read on and be a part of this old and suddenly new trend.
Moussaka, the national dish of Greece, is sometimes described as the Greek version of lasagna. It was introduced into my family many years ago, when my sister Louise married a big handsome Greek man named Norman. I’m a diehard fan of Italian lasagna, which is usually loaded with meat, so this veggie version of moussaka surprised even me. It gets its flavor from roasted vegetables, the three different cheeses make it very protein rich and satisfying.
I began searching online for a moussaka recipe with some of the ingredients that readers mentioned in their emails. I found versions that called for sweet potato, kale, Swiss chard, rutabaga, butternut squash, and zucchini, to name a few. Many of the people who wrote to me asked for broccoli and cauliflower, which happen to be favorites of mine. Moussaka almost always contains feta cheese and eggplant—a divine combination.
It’s my custom to kitchen-test combinations of veggies that appeal to what are known as “super” taste buds. Yes, some people have super taste buds, just as some have superior smelling abilities, but that, as I’m fond of saying, is the makings of another post.
Here’s the winning recipe I found. It calls for broccoli, but if broccoli is not your favorite, you may use cauliflower instead.
Chef’s note: This is a tasty casserole and easy to assemble, much like any lasagna. In my opinion, all casseroles are better if you prepare them early in the day and let them meld for a while. (In fact, many of you tell me that leftover lasagna is tastier the next day.) If you like, make it ahead, keep it in the refrigerator, and bake it whenever it’s convenient.
For the bechamel sauce:
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour or arrowroot
3 cups warm milk
2 eggs, beaten
Pinch of fresh nutmeg
For the moussaka:
2 medium thin-skinned Yukon gold potatoes, sliced
1 bunch fresh broccoli or cauliflower, sliced into flowerets
1 eggplant, cut into ¼-inch slices (do not peel)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 cups homemade or good store-bought marinara sauce
3 cups combined cheeses (such feta/ricotta or sharp cheddar/cottage cheese, or a combination of any cheeses you like)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
3 teaspoons butter (for greasing casserole dish)
3 cups or more bechamel sauce (see ingredients above)
Special equipment: 9×9-inch buttered casserole and 2 sheet pans for roasting the vegetables
- First, prepare bechamel sauce: Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. When it’s bubbling, add flour or arrowroot. Whisk until flour is slightly cooked and forms a golden paste, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, warm the milk in a separate saucepan. Add milk and beaten eggs to the butter-flour mixture, stirring constantly until it thickens. Grate a little fresh nutmeg into the sauce. Set aside.
- Next, prepare the moussaka: Preheat oven to 400° Spread broccoli or cauliflower on one side of a sheet pan and sliced potatoes on the other side. Spread eggplant over the other sheet pan. Brush olive oil over the vegetables.
- Place both sheet pans in the oven and roast 25–30 minutes, turning halfway through, until lightly browned. Set aside. Reduce oven heat to 375°.
- Meanwhile, butter the casserole In a medium bowl, combine your combined cheeses, Italian seasoning, and half the Parmesan (½ cup). Mix well. Set cheese mixture aside.
- Evenly layer the following ingredients in the casserole in this order: potatoes on the bottom, then broccoli or cauliflower. Top with marina sauce, spreading to the edges of the casserole. Next, add half the cheese mixture. Top with eggplant slices and add remaining cheese mixture. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup Parmesan. Pour bechamel sauce over the entire surface, spreading evenly to the edges of the casserole.
- Bake at 375°F 35–45 minutes, or until bubbly. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.
Image from iStock/Maria_Lapina.