Inspired by a moussaka

It all started with a Masterchef Australia Masterclass. One of the chef hosts, George Calombaris, of Greek descent, invited his mother, Mary, to show how to do a proper moussaka. Mrs Calombaris taught George to cook the way that her mother had taught her. Her mother’s mother thought her daughter to cook the way her mother had taught her. And her mother’s mother’s mother…    The thing is that Mrs Calombaris is adamant on keeping the dishes faithful to the tradition. Any modification on the original recipe is taken as major offense – and Mrs Calombaris won’t hesitate to scold George for bastardising traditional Greek dishes. Actually, it sounds a lot more like yelling at him, while he just rolls his eyes.

When I started cooking the moussaka, I already had a minor modification in mind: the cheese. Mrs Calombaris’s recipe calls for kefalograviera, which is impossible to source here. It ended up being replaced by less the less greek grana padano – another tasty hard cheese. Then the full cream milk was replaced by less fatty milk. And, the lamb, pork and veal mince give place to beef and pork. Followed by replacing the tomato passata by Portuguese tomatada. Now that we were at it, I pulled a few zucchini I had languishing in the bottom of the fridge. In less time it takes to write it, I had totally bastardized a Greek classic… no way I would call this a moussaka. I was even feeling Mrs Calombaris reprimands on the back of my mind. So, here it is: a seriously good dish, just perfect for a cold Winter nights, inspired by a moussaka. It just warms you until your heart.

Inspired by a moussaka 


  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 aubergines, peeled vertically like a zebra and sliced 5mm thick
  • 3 zucchini sliced 5mm thick
  • 500g pork and beef mince
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 250g crushed tomatoes
  • 400g tomato sauce (it can be replaced by 400g tomato passata)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • Olive oil, for frying
  • 4 large potatoes, sliced 5mm thick

For the bechamel

  • 100g butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • 600ml (full cream milk), warmed
  • 100g grana padano, grated
  • 1 egg
  • Extra grana padano cheese, grated


1. Preheat oven to 180⁰C.

2. Lay the aubergines over a shallow tray or dish and sprinkle liberally with salt. Cover with muslin or a clean tea towel and set aside for 30 minutes.

3. Heat oil in a large frying pan or saucepan, add the minced meat and cook until browned and meat breaks up. Add onion and sauté until softened. Add garlic, oregano, thyme, rosemary and cinnamon quills and allow to cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato passata, tomato paste and water, bring to the boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for ½ hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Pour oil into a frying pan approximately 1cm deep, place over a high heat and shallow fry potatoes for 3-4 minutes on each side or until tender. Drain on paper towel.

6. Pat dry the aubergine and pan fry on each side until golden yet still firm. Drain on paper towel.

7. Pat dry the zucchini and pan fry on each side until is soft. Drain on paper towel.

8. For béchamel, melt butter in a heavy based saucepan. Add flour, stir over a low heat for 2 minutes.

9. Slowly add warm milk, stirring continuously until thick. Add extra milk if sauce is too thick.

10. Whisk in the cheese and the egg, season to taste.

11. To assemble, oil a casserole dish and layer as follows. Meat sauce, potato, sauce, potato, sauce, zucchini, sauce, potato, aubergine and remaining sauce. Cover with béchamel and grate extra cheese over.

12. Bake for 45 minutes until browned and béchamel has set. Serve.


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