Spring is here and although after my post about Spring on the 21st March, the temperature dropped suddenly and we had a very cold week, now spring is definitely here.
Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean and appear during spring. Although during the past years we have all sorts of vegetables cultivated in green houses, we never see artichokes after the end of Spring. Of course, we can get them frozen or canned but they are much tastier when they are fresh.
According to Greek Mythology, Dias (Zeus) the King of the Gods, had easy access to the women of the world and took full advantage of it. Also, his power as a supreme god made him difficult to resist. He fell in love with a beautiful girl called Cynara, who rejected him and refused to resist and Dias got so angry that he transformed her into a plant. In ancient Greek the name for artichoke was Cynara (pr. Kynara) in modern Greek An(cynara) = ankinara.
Although I’ve been blogging for so many years, I very rarely post artichoke recipes, except may be adding just a few in a meal, like peas, where my children could easily remove them, or disguise them with many other ingredients, as in Agginaropita, so that they may eat them.
I love artichokes and remember back in Cyprus when I was a child, that I would pluck the leaves and would eat that little part on the base which was edible and delicious.
Artichokes (cynara scolymus) do not need much water, so they are cultivated in hot and dry climates and they also grow in the wild (cynara cardunculus) as they do not need any particular care. They are rich in antioxidants, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, fibre and vitamin C.
In the past this plant was considered to be an aphrodisiac but nowadays this myth has been busted but it does have a lot of other healthy properties. It contains an acid called Cynarin, which protects the liver from anything that might affect it such as hepititis or cirrhosis. It is diuretic, anticeptic and helps relief gastroenteric problems. It reduces the levels of cholesterol in the blood, it also reduces the sugar levels in the blood, it strenthens the immune system and recently studies have shown that the acids caffeic and flavoinoids help fight cancer.
You can make this meal with frozen artichokes or canned if you prefer, but with fresh artichokes it will be much tastier. When buying the artichokes on a Tuesday from the farmers’ market, I was planning to stuff the artichokes but eventually after cleaning them they were too small to be filled so at the last minute I changed my find and as I had some lasagna at home I decided to make them into lasagna, adding bechamel on top.
I just used the heart of the artichoke, so I removed most of the leaves which you can see in the pictures. For the sauce, I made a bolognaise and when cooking it make sure to turn it off while it is still juicy because the artichokes will be added raw and will be cooked with the sauce. I only had 10 lasagna left from a previous recipe, otherwise Iwould have probably added another layer before the bechamel but it worked well even with two layers.
Note: After preparing the recipe, I realized that I did not read carefully the rules and it should have been a vegetarian meal. The bolognaise sauce is optional and instead you can prepare a simple tomato sauce or replace the ground meat in the bolognaise with pleurotus (oyster) mushrooms.
The dish was amazing. If you like artichokes, I strongly urge you to try it. I rarely eat any of the meals I cook in the evening as I usually eat something light, such as a toasted sandwich or a Greek yoghurt with fruit but it was so delicious that I ate it for dinner as well and of course it was too much for both of us, so we had leftovers for the following day and it was even better the next day.
Artichoke Lasagna – Pastitsio, recipe by Ivy
Preparation time: about 1 hour
Cooking time: 45 minutes
10 lasagna sheets (the ones you don’t need to pre-cook)
8 artichokes, cut into small pieces
Halloumi and cinnamon to spinkle on top
For the Bolognaise Sauce
500 grams (1.10 lbs) minced pork and beef (or replace with oyster mushrooms)
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled
2 pinches dried oregano
1 tbsp tomato purée
500 (1.10 lbs) grams whole tomatoes, blended
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
½ cup red wine
50 ml milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Béchamel Sauce
1 dose of béchamel cream. See how to make béchamel here.
Clean the artichokes and set aside. See how to clean / trim the artichokes here.
In a food processor add the whole tomatoes, tomato paste and peeled carrots and mix to purée and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a hot pan. Sauté the onion for a couple of minutes and add the garlic. Mix for a minute and add the minced meat. Stir to break it up and mix until the meat turns white. Add the wine and mix for a few minutes until the alcohol evaporates. Add the Worcestershire sauce and season with the bay leaf, oregano, salt and pepper.
Add the tomato purée and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the milk and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
Meantime, while the meat is cooking, prepare the Béchamel sauce.
In a 33 x 23 cm (13 x 9”) Pyrex (or baking tin) add half of the lasagna sheets. Add half the artichokes and half of the bolognaise sauce. Add another layer of lasagna, the remaining artichokes and the remaining bolognaise.
Add the béchamel sauce on top and sprinkle some grated halloumi and cinnamon.
Preheat oven at 180oC / 350o F and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden on top.
Serve with a salad.
This is an original recipe of mine, so it also goes to my event Creative Concoctions. Hoping to see some of your entreis soon.
Kopiaste and Kali Orexi!!