Butternut Squash Moussaka
When I started deciding which main dishes to include, I was a little conflicted about including moussaka or pastitsio. They are very similar dishes, as far as I’m concerned—meat and tomato sauce and a Béchamel sauce are layered with vegetables to make a moussaka, or with pasta for a pastitsio—and they are generally both a little heartier and heavier than suits my taste. And while both of them are dishes that represent Greece to the world, neither of them are dishes I’m crazy about.
I’ve had a few delicious ones in my day, I’ll say, as a disclaimer (and it’s true), but I decided to experiment with a couple vegetarian recipes I’ve seen, and came up with this recipe for a vegetarian butternut squash moussaka, minus the tomato layer, that I liked enough to include. In Greece it would probably be made with pumpkin, but butternut squashes are easier to cut and work with, so that’s what I use. Really, any orange-fleshed winter squash will work. And, if you want to make a traditional one with meat, there’s no shortage of recipes—try a recipe from one of the kitchen blogs on my links section.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ cup all-purpose/plain flour
- 4 cups whole milk, warmed to room temperature
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 4–5 lbs of butternut squash
- 4 large red onions, coarsely chopped
- 3–4 cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper
- ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dry
- 2 teaspoons fresh chopped sage or ½ teaspoon dry
- olive oil for cooking the onions and coating the baking trays
- ½ lb greek feta cheese, for layering between the vegetables and Béchamel
1. Cooking the Squash
Heat the oven to 425. Coat a couple baking sheets with olive oil.
Peel the squash, slice it into ½-inch sections, place the slices on the baking sheets, salt the tops and drizzle them with oil. Bake them until they are softened and browned, about 40 minutes, turning them halfway through the cooking time. When the squash is done, remove it from the oven and lower the oven to 350.
While the squash is cooking, make the Béchamel and the onion mixture.
2. The Béchamel
To make the Béchamel, put the butter in a pot to melt over medium low heat. Add the flour, stirring quickly with a wooden spoon to prevent lumps from forming. Cook the flour/butter mixture to a light golden colour, watching and adjusting the heat, stirring constantly and watching it carefully so that it doesn’t burn.
When the flour is cooked, turn off the heat and pour in the milk a tablespoon at a time at first, stirring continuously to incorporate it, then continue to add it a bit more at a time, stirring constantly to keep it smooth until it’s all blended in.
When all the milk is added, add the salt, tasting and adjusting it, turn the heat back on to low, and cook, stirring until the sauce thickens to be as dense as thick cream or yogurt. Remove the pot from the heat, add the parmesan, stir and then the eggs, stirring well, and finally, add the nutmeg.
3. The Onions and Herbs
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook slowly until soft and lightly caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the garlic, the thyme, sage and the parsley, and cook for another minute until the garlic is softened. Remove the pan from the heat.
4. Assembling and Baking the Moussaka
- Have the oven temperature at 350.
- Lightly oil a 12-by-8-by-2-inch baking pan/tin. Layer a third of the squash in the bottom of the pan, arranging and cutting the pieces when necessary to make a good layer of squash. Season with salt and pepper and top with one-third of the onion mixture.
- Crumble the feta and distribute a third of it over the onions.
- Pour about one-third of the Béchamel over the feta and onions, patting it down to spread out evenly.
- Repeat the layers twice more, making three layers in all.
- Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, until the Béchamel is puffed and golden and the vegetables tender. Remove and let rest for about 10 minutes before serving
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