Not Moussaka It’s MOOssaKKa!

We were fortunate that Laurent’s posting to Italy also meant that he was accredited to Greece which meant regular trips to Athens during our time there. We had made our first visit in 1997 to catch a cruise of Anatolia and several of the Greek Islands on a four-masted schooner. It was the first time we used Matt Barrett’s Guide to Greece – and it was a gold mine of valuable information that we referred to frequently over the years.

Fast forward to 2007 and the first of the regular trips that allowed us to become familiar with the city, the countryside, the culture, the people, and the food. Ah the food – we had so many good, often simple, meals in Athens, Corinth, Napflion, Delphi and Arachova (where we spent our 30th anniversary) including some very good moussaka. However I honestly think that this hearty vegetable-meat dish is best prepared at home; and at our house I use a recipe from Akis Petretziki.


For the vegetables

  • olive oil, for brushing and extra for vegetables
  • 2 potatoes, cut into thin slices
  • 1 onion, cut into thin slices
  • 1 eggplant, cut into thin slices
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut into thin slices
  • salt
  • ground pepper
  • thyme

For the ground meat mixture

  • olive oil, for sautéing
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 500 g or roughly 1 lb ground meat (beef or lamb)
  • salt
  • ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 400 g or 14 oz diced tomatoes

For the béchamel sauce

  • 750 ml or 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 100 g or 3.5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 100 g or 3.5 oz butter
  • ground pepper
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 100 g or 3.5 oz grated Parmesan
  • plus additional Parmesan for sprinkling


  • Preheat oven to 200* C (390* F)

For the vegetables

  • Brush a 25×30 cm baking pan with olive oil.
  • Peel the potatoes and onion and cut into thin slices.
  • Transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and some thyme. Toss to coat.
  • Spread in a single layer on the bottom of the baking pan.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, until they soften and turn golden.
  • Thinly slice an eggplant. The vegetable slices need to be thin in order for them to cook correctly in the oven.
  • Transfer eggplant slices to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Toss.
  • Remove pan from oven and add the eggplant slices. Spread them in a single layer over the potato and onion. If your eggplant looks a little dry, drizzle with some more olive oil.
  • Bake for another 20 minutes.
  • Cut the zucchini into thin slices. Once again, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Toss to coat.
  • Spread them in a single layer over the eggplant and bake for 20 minutes.

For the ground meat

  • Pour a small amount of olive oil into a pan. Mince an onion. Add it to the pan and caramelize over high heat.
  • Mince a clove of garlic. Add it to your pan and mix. Sauté until it softens and turns slightly golden.
  • Add ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of ground cloves. Mix and sauté. It makes such a huge difference when you cook your spices before you add the meat.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. Sauté.
  • Add the ground meat. Use a wooden spoon to break it up into small pieces. Season with salt and pepper and brown over high heat.
  • Add a can of chopped tomatoes. Sauté for 5-10 minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates. The mixture should be quite dry. Set aside.

For the béchamel sauce

  • Place a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter. As soon as the butter starts to melt add the flour and start to whisk as you sauté.
  • Start to add the milk slowly and in batches. Whisk continuously throughout this process so no lumps form in the mixture. As soon as the first batch of milk is absorbed in the flour, you can add the next batch. Repeat process until all of the milk has been added and completely incorporated in the mixture.
  • When the sauce finally starts to bubble you’ll know it’s ready. It should be smooth, creamy and delicious.
  • Remove from heat. Add some freshly ground pepper, ground nutmeg, grated Parmesan and 3 egg yolks. Stir and set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 180* C (350* F)

To assemble

  • Add 1/3 of the béchamel sauce to the ground meat mixture. Mix together to create a sticky filling that will hold the dish together when serving and eating.
  • Spread filling over vegetable layers.
  • Pour béchamel sauce over meat filling. Use a spatula to smooth the top and sprinkle with some grated parmesan.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Remove from oven. Allow to cool for at least 1 hour.
  • Cut into pieces, serve and enjoy!

This goes well with Horiatiki the traditional Greek Salad and one of Akis’ recipes for this favourite can be found here.

We found out about Akis from our good friend Yannis who appeared with him on the Greek version of Master Chef. Yannis was one of the semi-finalists and currently works as part of the Kitchen Lab team.

On this day in 1968: Apollo 5 lifts off carrying the first Lunar module into space.

The Charioteer

After all these years of travelling I’m still taken aback when I turn a corner and come face to face with something I’ve read or heard about since I was a child.

I recall a picture of the Charioteer of Delphi in a school history book from perhaps grade 5 or 6 – and yes we had printed books back then, Gutenberg had just invented the printing press.

The Charioteer of Delphi

For some reason his impassive gaze stayed in my mind. And last Saturday when I entered the room where he is housed in the Delphi Museum I found myself once again transfixed by that calm stare but this time it was not a picture – it was the real thing.

The eyes of the Victor

It is rare that the eyes of a bronze of this age are found intact but the white enamel with black stone insets were perfectly preserved and still look out betraying no emotion in his moment of victory. The victor as god perhaps?

The Votive Group

He was part of a larger votive offering given by Polyzalos of Gela in celebration of his charioteer’s victory at the Panhellenic games in either 478 or 474 BC. Dedicated to Apollo, it was buried by rock during an earthquake in 373 BC and lay hidden until unearthed by a French excavation crew in 1896. Only the figure of the Charioteer was found almost intact – fragments of the rest of the group can only give a rough idea of the original.

A Rear View

The chariot would have hidden the lower part of his body which is why the upper torso seems slightly out of proportion. The games had a religious as well as an athletic significance and he is wearing a priestly chiton. Again because of the positioning more attention has been paid to the upper folds of his tunic than the lower.

Curls and the diadem

It seemed almost possible to reach up and feel the texture of the diadem and his artfully arranged curls. The detailing is incredible.

The feet of the driver

And strangely even though few people would see the detail except the artist himself, the unknown sculptor paid as much attention to the feet of his figure. I was astounded again by how naturalistic they are – these are the feet of an athlete – even down to what appears to be a corn on the left foot.

Another front view

No pictures in a long forgotten textbook could have prepared me for the amazing experience of seeing this incredible piece of history.

07 dicembre – Sant’Ambrogio di Milano