Food Review: Cypriot flavours sing in Georgina Hayden's moussaka
Anyone seen any vegetables? Do they still exist? Are tomatoes more valuable than gold and should we all go back to growing cress on cotton wool the way we did when we were at school? What, that’s just me? Oh, I apologise.
But if any restaurants are running short of cress and want to find a regular supplier, then I’ve got a packet of seeds and know my way around a DPD delivery slot.
We all need a side hustle, and in this time of fruit but no veg, it’s time to dazzle Alan Sugar and make like an entrepreneur.
But I digress.
We were talking vegetables. And there’s a good reason for that. It seems the only way to buy decent vegetables is to get them online. As some supermarket shelves stay empty and the Government insists: Let Them Eat Turnips, the savvy among us are already making merry.
Georgina Hayden, or, rather, The Brilliant Georgina Hayden, is among them. She’s the food writer, cook and presenter whose Greek Cypriot grandparents inspired her love of cooking. She went on to work on Jamie Oliver’s food team for 12 years.
Georgina writes for Delicious, Waitrose Magazine, and The Telegraph, and features on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch and BBC’s Saturday Kitchen.
She has written three books: Stirring Slowly, Taverna and most recently Nistisima, a collection of vegan Mediterranean recipes released in spring 2022.
And, lucky us, she also puts her recipes in boxes and posts them all around the UK, including to the sunny old, funny old West Midlands.
Georgina makes food that people like to eat. So there’s no Fancy Dan tuiles or foams.
You won’t need a PhD in molecular gastronomy to get her food from box to plate – just a decent oven and an ounce of common sense.
Georgina’s present box is a Taverna Cypriot Moussaka, a Cypriot spin on a warming favourite, featuring layers of pork and beef mince with aubergine, potato and an indulgent bechamel. It’s a dish that the chef is fond of, as she outlines: “I grew up with this dish – every family has their own recipe.”
Her Cypriot version features minced pork and beef with warming cinnamon and nutmeg, layered with potatoes and aubergines, a thick layer of béchamel and salty kefalotyri and percorino.
On the side, a rustic tomato and Kalamata olive salad is dressed in a sharp red wine vinaigrette to cut through the richness.
Which brings us neatly back to salad – because we mentioned that at the start, didn’t we?
Dinner starts with a delicious and easy-to-put-together salad of tomato, cucumber, roughly-chopped coriander and Kalamata olives in a vinaigrette. Because, let’s face it, when the snowdrops and crocuses have popped their heads up for spring, only to find shivering weather and a blanket of snow, we all need a little sunshine salad in our lives to brighten the dark winter days.
Georgina’s food is comforting, it’s refreshing, it’s the sort of stuff that’s easy to pop in the oven – no, not the salad – for a satisfying mid-week supper.
Her moussaka is, frankly, delicious. Topped with a creamy, deliciously cheesy, and reasonably intense bechamel, it’s comfort food of the highest order.
If food were a hug, it would be Georgina’s moussaka. If food were a comfort blanket that wrapped you up as the snow falls, it would be the very same.
The cooking was easy. While the salad was being prepared – and, by prepared, we mean slicing a cucumber and throwing it in a bowl with a hint of pizzazz – the moussaka was bubbling away in the oven, at 200C. After 40 minutes, it was done and left to rest for a little while.
Ten minutes later, it was time to feast.
There’s something strangely reassuring about a brilliant, unfussy, dig-in meal. Shorn of pretence or grandeur, it is somehow all the more impressive.
And Georgina’s one-pot wonder was precisely that – meat, potatoes and veg in a fabulous, thrilling, and absurdly tasty forkful.
The meat had been beautifully seasoned and any half-decent, self-respecting ragu is always better when it’s beef and pork, rather than just one of those. The potato was firm and had retained its shape and texture – no falling apart mush from Georgina.
With ample bite, the dish was, quite literally, meat and potatoes.
A layer of aubergine was tender with a slight vegetal bitterness, like zucchini on steroids. Meltingly tender and deliciously mild, it was the perfect contrast to the thrilling Cyriot kefalotyri cheese, which made the bechamel a work of beauty. Salty and with a light tang, it elevated the dish to another level.
The bechamel was dizzyingly rich, the result of plenty of good quality egg yolks, making the moussaka a skilful and accomplished dish.
There wasn’t a pud afterwards, though, frankly, I’m not sure there’d have been room for one.
The dish was advertised as being for two, though unless that ‘two’ included a heavyweight boxer on an ultra-protein diet and an American Footballer looking to bulk up, I’m not sure of the claim.
We ate a quarter of the moussaka each, along with salad, and enjoyed the same the following day – by which time the flavours had comingled and were even more pronounced.
Georgina Hayden is reasonably well known in foodie circles, though outside those she has some way to go to build her profile.
Serving dinners as sumptuous as a value-for-money Cypriot moussaka is one way of going about that and as she steps out of the shadows, she’s shown commendable skill in conjuring a dish of rare delight.