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Papoutsakia -Little Shoes

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Papoutsakia in Greek means little shoes – the name alone endears me to this recipe but I also know that they are particularly tasty too. Little shoes are aubergines sliced in half and filled with minced meat that has been cooked in wine, herbs, cinnamon and tomatoes, then covered with a rich velvety cheesy bechamel sauce. These are then baked in the oven until golden brown.

Aubergines are plentiful in Greece.  A traditional home cooked dish baked in vast numbers and packed into large baking trays enough to feed an army.  It doesn’t matter that not everyone is sitting down to eat at the same time as they can be eaten hot, warm or cold (preferably with a salad and a hunk of bread).

Everytime I smell the aromatic waft that is released from the oven I am transported back to Greece. They are a true taste of home.  Even without the sun ripened aubergines and mediterrean tomatoes that are sometimes hard to find in England, this dish can still be made over here and taste just as good.  The secret is in the slow cooking of the meat, wine and herbs. Ingredient x  in this recipe is the cinnamon which is what really lifts the whole dish giving it a strong heart.

It could be said that this is a poor man’s moussaka as it has similar flavours and ingredients but it is a lot quicker to prepare and a lot lighter.

The recipe below is how I like to cook Papoutsakia, but like most recipes there is plenty of scope to make it your own.  I use lamb mince, but there is no reason why beef, pork or veal mince cannot be used, or even lentils.  I use tinned finely chopped tomatoes but if I had fresh tomatoes I would use those, again it is down to what is at hand.  I use a cinnamon stick placed into the meat while it is cooking but ground cinnamon is as good.

The cheesy bechamel sauce can be made to suit what you have in the fridge.  Ideally I would use Kefalotyri but I don’t always have it and so I sometimes use Pecorino or Romano cheese and if I feel I have some Cheddar to use up, I will add that instead.  The important ingredient in the bechamel is the egg, as it is this that creates the light velvety fluffy texture to the topping.  The scattering of further grated cheese on the top is to help create the golden brown effect that looks so inviting.

I have written the recipe for medium sized aubergines as that is what I am finding in the market at the moment.  Make sure to pick shiny plump aubergines which are at their peak. I also sprinkle the aubergines when halved with salt as I feel this draws out the bitterness in the aubergine, it’s a personal choice as I hear so many others tell me they don’t bother as aubergines are not bitter any more. I know that the larger aubergines can be a little bitter and that there are two types of aubergine male and female, the female being the sweeter of the two!!

I have baked the aubergines before filling, other recipes suggest frying.  I have found that aubergines love olive oil and tend to absorb a lot of oil in the pan which does add to the flavour but I prefer to bake them.  Firstly, I am saving on the olive oil and secondly there is less splashing and spitting, so much cleaner and easier.

Please note the photos below are using only 2 aubergines.

Papoutsakia – Little Shoes

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 medium aubergines

Salt

Olive oil

1 medium onion chopped finely (red or white)

1-2 cloves of garlic minced

400g  lamb mince (pork, beef or veal)

1 glass of red wine (optional) or water

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 tsp sugar

1 tbs oregano (or a little more!)

Bechamel Sauce

40gms butter

40gms flour

400ml milk (full fat)

Kefalotyri cheese or Percorino/Romano cheese or even another hard cheese such as a Cheddar

1 egg beaten

salt and pepper

Method

Slice the aubergines in half lengthwise.   With a knife carefully, without piercing the, make criss cross cuts into the creamy flesh.  Sprinkle with salt and leave, skin up, in a dish for 30-50mins.  This is to draw out any bitterness in the aubergines.  Rinse under cold water and dry.

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Brush the aubergines with olive oil inside and out and place skin side up in a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Place in an oven 180C for 15 minutes and then turn them over for another 15mins.  The aubergines should be slightly soft to the touch.

Remove from the oven and, with a spoon, carefully remove the central flesh from the aubergine leaving a scooped out shell.  Finely chop the scooped out flesh and put to one side.

Meat Sauce

Put a little olive oil in a pan and fry the chopped onion until translucent, then add the minced garlic, fry a little more but do not brown the garlic.

Add the mince to the pan with the garlic and onion and fry until brown, breaking up any lumps.

Add the glass of red wine to the pan and stir for a couple of minutes.

Add the tin of chopped tomatoes and a teaspoon of sugar, along with the oregano, salt and pepper.  Stir and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.  If the pan dries out too much add a little water.

Turn the oven onto 180C.

After 20 minutes add the chopped aubergine to the pan, stir and cook for a further 10 minutes or until all the liquid as been absorbed.

Set aside.

Bechamel sauce

In a pan melt the butter and add the flour. Stir the flour and butter well, and cook until a thick paste forms.  Slowly add the milk stiring continuously. Stir until the sauce comes to a gentle boil, keep stirring and remove from the heat when the sauce has thickened.

Add the grated cheese and stir.

Leave the bechamel to cool a little then add a tablespoon of the mixture to the beaten egg. Beat, then slowly add the egg to the belchamel sauce whisking as you add it.  If the bechamel is too hot and the egg added too quickly it will cook the egg and create a curdled appearance.

Assembly

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Remove the cinnamon stick if used and spoon the meat mixture into the aubergine shells.  Then cover with the bechamel sauce. Top with grated cheese and place in an oven at 180C for 30 mins or until the belchamel sauce has started to brown.

Serve with a Greek Salad or just a hunk of bread and a glass of Greek wine.

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