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Kokkari's Vegetable Moussaka

approximately 1 C. olive oil
1 large eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1 1/2 t. kosher salt + salt, to taste
3/4 t. freshly ground pepper + pepper, to taste
1 lb. russet potatoes
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb (white part only), thinly sliced crosswise
1 small garlic clove, thinly sliced
3 T. ouzo
9 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
2 T. tomato paste
1 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. ground allspice
1/4 C. shredded basil leaves
1/4 C. chopped Italian parsley
2 T. chopped fresh oregano leaves
4 T. butter
4 T. all-purpose flour
2 C. milk
1/2 C. freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Brush a baking sheet with oil. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with a generous amount of olive oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the eggplant is soft. Let cool.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350F.

Peel the potatoes, then slice slightly thicker than the eggplant; season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Heat about 4 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the potatoes and saute for 8 to 10 minutes, until almost, but not quite tender. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, fennel and garlic and saute for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent. Add the ouzo and stir for 1 minute, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the mushrooms, tomato paste, 3/4 teaspoon of the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick and chunky. Stir in the basil, parsley and oregano.

Taste, and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Blend in the flour and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbling, about 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Set aside.

Grease a deep 3-quart casserole dish. Arrange the potato slices on the bottom, overlapping them to fit. Overlap half of the eggplant slices on top of the potatoes. Spread the vegetable sauce over the eggplant and top with the remaining eggplant slices. Spread about 1 1/2 cups of the white sauce over the eggplant, enough to cover the top thickly. Dust with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until browned and bubbling. Let sit for 20 minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

For advance preparation: Prepare all the individual components, cool them completely, cover and refrigerate separately for up to 1 day. Assemble just before baking.

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