Little shoes (papoutsakia)
(Aubergines filled with meat and topped with bechamel sauce)
Just why they are called papoutsakia (little shoes) is not exactly clear, but I suppose these boat-shaped savouries do vaguely resemble the shape of those soft leather-soled “slippers” worn by the soldiers with their ceremonial dress at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Syntagma
4 medium or large aubergines,
could be either of the plump, round or long thin variety
1 large, finely chopped onion,
13 oz (400 g) finely ground lean beef
Tiny pinch of cinnamon
4 fl oz (125 ml) dry white wine, 2 rounded tbs. tomato paste
salt and pepper, 1 bay leaf, 1 crushed clove garlic
3 1/2 oz (100 g) grated kefalotyri cheese
(use parmesan and pecoríno mixed)
Béchamel: 2 oz (60 g) butter
2 oz (60 g) plain flour
Good 1 pint (1/2litre) milk
salt and pepper
Tiniest pinch of nutmeg
Cut the aubergines in half lengthways, then make criss-cross slashes deep into the pulp but take care not to break the skins. Sprinkle with salt and leave to “weep” for 30 minutes. Wipe off the juices and pat dry Now remove the pulp from the centre of the aubergines, leaving a rim of flesh about 1 cm thick around the sides, and chop the pulp finely Sauté the onion in a little oil, add the beef and brown lightly. Stir in the cinnamon and chopped aubergine pulp.
Pour over the wine. Now add the tomato paste, seasonings, bay leaf and garlic, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Fry the aubergine cases on all sides in a little oil, taking care not to burn them. The skin should just begin to soften slightly and the cut surfaces take on a slight golden brown tinge. Remove from the pan and place in an ovenproof dish. Fill the cavities with the meat mixture.
Place the filled aubergines in a baking dish, propping them up against each other or with pieces of potato, so that they cannot fall over and spill out their filling. Sprinkle the surface with a little of the grated cheese. Make the béchamel by melting the butter in a saucepan and stirring in the flour to make a smooth paste. Add seasonings, then gradually add the milk (which should be at room temperature), beating constantly to make a smooth thick sauce. Cook very gently and then add half the remaining grated cheese. Allow to cool and thicken even more, then spoon the sauce over the filled aubergines, covering the surfaces completely.
Sprinkle over the rest of the cheese, add a little water to the pan and bake at 335 F, 170 C or gas mark 3-4 for about 40 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Serves 4-8, according to the size of the aubergines.