Quick moussaka probably sounds impossible, and in all honesty, it is.  A real moussaka is a slow-cooked, time-intensive labor of love — layers of eggplant, seasoned lamb, bechamel, and tomato baked until beautifully gooey and satisfying.  My friend Kristen has a fantastic recipe for it, which I like to turn to from time to time, but it’s certainly not a weeknight dish for busy families.

Unless, that is, you give the moussaka a makeover.  One of the inviolable principles of cooking dinner for the family on a busy weeknight is that Something Tossed With Pasta Always Works.  (Even if you’re gluten-free, this can still hold true; we aren’t strictly gluten-free in this house anymore, but we still most often eat brown rice pasta — good brands won’t be noticeably different from whole-wheat pasta and are just as easy to make.)  So on a recent night when, despite the plan, everything seemed to be going wrong and dinner felt as though it could be in jeopardy, I turned to that old rule of the kitchen and produced this moussaka, made-over, tossed with pasta and finished in less than 30 minutes.

This moussaka pasta toss has all the flavors of the classic casserole it’s based on: Eggplant, lamb (if you’ve got it, though beef works perfectly well), garlic, and the exotic touch of cinnamon and nutmeg that make moussaka such a special dish.  It’s creamy and hearty, but not nearly as heavy as the real thing.  A sprinkle of fresh mint on top livens it up, though it’s not necessary if you haven’t got any on hand or can’t find it at your market — you can do without, or substitute basil.  And on a rainy summer day, you might try throwing some fresh cherry tomatoes into the mix instead of the tomato puree, or using zucchini instead of eggplant; a pasta toss is, after all, nothing if not adaptable.

Moussaka Pasta Toss