Wow, this is by far the best dish that Jo has ever cooked for me. You can read into that either way, I think he did. It was the prefect comfort food for a couple who have been avoiding bread and pasta for January, but fancied a winter warmer. I have managed to stretch it to 2 suppers and 4 lunches, it was that good.
4 tbsp olive oil
3 or 4 medium aubergines, sliced longways
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp dried oregano
500g minced lamb
2 tbsp tomato purée, mixed with 150ml water
150ml red wine (optional)
Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
For the bechamel sauce/custard:
60g plain flour
50g pecorino cheese, grated
2 eggs, beaten
Nutmeg, to grate
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Cut the aubergines lengthways into 0.5cm slices, and brush with olive oil and season. Bake for about 45 minutes until soft, golden and floppy, but not crisping at the edges.
Put 2 tbsps olive oil into a large frying pan over a medium high heat and cook the onion until soft. Add the garlic, cinnamon and oregano and cook for a further couple of minutes, then stir in the lamb. Turn up the heat slightly, and brown the lamb well, cooking until the mixture is quite dry. Stir in the tomato and wine, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down low and cook for 30–40 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season.
For the bechamel, bring the milk to just below boiling point, and melt the butter in another saucepan. Stir the flour into the butter and cook for a couple of minutes, then gradually whisk in the hot milk. Cook until you have a thick sauce, then stir in the cheese until melted. Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly, then beat in the eggs, salt to taste and add nutmeg – half a teaspoon at least.
Arrange a third of the aubergines in the base of an oven dish, and top with half the meat. Repeat these layers, then finish off with a layer of aubergine, and top with the sauce. Bake for about 45 minutes until well browned, and then leave to cool for half an hour before serving.