One of my guilty pleasures, late at night, is to read recipe books. When I use the word guilty do not misunderstand me as condemning this enriching experience of mine and many others. But nosing into a book, inhaling the colours, tasting the smells and visualising the fabulous crunch of this with the creamy that, a bubbling pot of comfort or an ice-cold masterpiece at the same time as losing yourself in a book is one of the most delicious ways to spend one’s time. It is also, obviously, a great way of discovering new recipes, new ingredients, and a fab source of inspiration. I’ve gone through my Mum’s collection, which is no small feat, and my own meagre collection is in dire need of fleshing out. If anybody has any recommendations, please comment below!!
During one of these late night sessions, I pulled down an old cookbook that was dog-eared, discoloured and exactly how a cookbook should appear: used. Reading it was a bit complicated: I was taken through a maze of food ‘themes’ which transformed into dinner party menus, and I read, fascinated, what constituted an impressive spread at the time this book was published. What does everybody think of jellied cucumber, made with lime jelly, as a starter? Potato salad terrine, formed using gelatine? As willing as I am to try anything new, these two made me laugh with disbelief and a hefty pinch of revulsion. Another benefit, therefore, of reading cookbooks: seeing the evolution of ‘fashionable’ food.
My twin and I decided to make moussaka, a dish whose origins are apparently from the former Ottoman Empire. There are lots of different variants, such as the Greek version which has layers of aubergine, meat and béchamel sauce baked together; in Turkey it is not layered. We decided to base ours on the Greek moussaka but Becky chose the recipe she wanted to use and chose The Hairy Bikers one on the BBC website. Two issues we faced: the potatoes we had were not the floury kind, but the more waxy ones, and we did not have very many of them because we increased our quantities a bit to make enough for a lot of leftovers.
The tomato mince sauce smelled absolutely DIVINE as it simmered away in all its juiciness. I was put in charge of the white sauce…which was a wee bit daunting. I enjoy a good cauli cheese, even more so when broccoli and boiled eggs jump in too, but my white sauces have been abysmal. I felt like I had abused my broccoli and cauliflower florets as they choked on lumps of flour, as I swallowed a floury sauce which ressembled a liquid form of poly-filler. Anywho, Becky happens to enjoy béchamel and under her eagle eye I melted the butter and flour together, and then carried out the vital step to ensure the magic béchamel: I let them cook together for a couple of minutes before starting to add the milk. Which I splashed everywhere when pouring, and slopped it over the sides when I stirred too vigorously, but that was the least of my problems. After a mammoth stir sesh, my béchamel sauce was creamy and I could not detect one dustball of flour. Mind you, it takes so long to make I think I’m going to reserve it for Special Occasions.
We layered up together: mince, potato, béchamel, aubergine. Repeat. The potato was quite sparse, but we saw no reason to worry. We topped with a layer of parmesan and baked it in the oven. The aromas swirling around the kitchen were on another level, and as it came out it was singing in hot, bubbly red oil and gleaming cheese. It was unfortunate, then, to cut into it and discover that the layers had merged. A creamy tomato sauce was tasty but we really had looked forwards to those clean cut layers. It must have been the sparseness of the potatoes and their waxiness that didn’t absorb the sauce.
It is an extremely appealing-looking dish, so it’s already better than some recipes (see top). Even if it didn’t quite turn out the way we expected, the flavours are all deliciously warming and if you like aubergine, you’re onto a winner.