The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer and spring is in the air. I love the the changing of the seasons, it’s like a feeling of rebirth and renewal, especially in the spring. Flowers have yet to bloom on the trees outside, but it’s only a matter of time before they do.
In the Chinese culture the changing of the seasons is actually a season in itself, a fifth season called “doyo”, meaning transition, and refers to late summer and the periods around the equinoxes and solstices. I personally love these times of transition and fully embrace the fifth season in all it’s glory.
Lasagne (or lasagna for singular) are a pasta shape used to make a baked layered dish of pasta and other fillings, known in Italian as Lasagne al Forno or baked lasagne. The variations on this dish are more than I can name, from Lasagne Alla Bolognese made with a meat sauce, to vegetarian Lasagne made with spinach and ricotta, but the common ingredient that Lasagne can not go without is Besciamella (aka bechamel en français). Bechamel, a creamy white sauce typically made with milk, and butter, seasoned with nutmeg and thickened with flour, is a classic French recipe but has become fundamental to Lasagne al Forno. I’ve used my reinvented plant based version here of course.
Nutrition 101 & Seductive Saffron
Saffron is an ancient spice said to have been used by Cleopatra as an aromatic and seductive essence. It is a widely used spice in many culinary cultures including Indian, Persian, Greek, Middle Eastern, and Northern Italian where it is essential in the Milanese recipe for Risotto allo Zafferano.
Saffron is obtained from the stigmas of the Crocus or Rose of Saffron flower. The extraction of the stigmas from the bulbs is extremely laboursome, to get just 200 g of ready to use saffron, you need 1 kg of stigmas or 85,000 flowers. As such, this spice is one of the most expensive ones out there. Luckily, you only need a very small amount to add colour and aroma. Even though Saffron is harvested in October, the threads or powder are packaged and available all year round, just be sure you are getting your saffron from a reliable source and that it has been well stored to maintain freshness. In Italy, saffron is sold in well sealed packets that contain the saffron which has been further wrapped in a thin paper to protect it.
This sexy spice has been used therapeutically in traditional medicine for it’s antiseptic, antioxidant, antidepressant and anti-convulsant properties to treat coughs, colds, stomach aches, digestive issues and insomnia among other ailments. Safranal, a volatile oil found in saffron, which gives it it’s aromatic flavour, has been found to have antioxidant properties. The spice also gets it’s vibrant golden yellow colour from cartenoid compounds including a-crocin, lycopene and beta carotene and is a great source of manganese.
Since most recipes call for such a small amount of saffron, usually less than a teaspoon, you are not likely to benefit a great deal from it’s nutritional and medicinal properties this way. However, referencing my nutrition book, Prescription for Dietary Wellness, Phyllis A. Balch recommends making a tea using twelve stigmas or 2 teaspoons of saffron per cup of boiling water, letting it steep for 10 minutes, then straining it and drinking it to aid in digestion. I have also come across many sources that say it can be used topically or mixed with honey to form a syrup and applied as an antiseptic for toothaches.
If you missed my last post about artichokes, you can read it here to discover their health benefits.
Artichoke Lasagne with Leeks & Saffron Bechamel
This lightened up three layer lasagna is filled with artichokes, leeks and a creamy and flavourful vegan bechamel that has been infused with the seductive aroma of saffron.
- 6 Fresh Artichokes, outer leaves and prickly centers removed
- Lemon Water Bath (large bowl of filtered water with 2 Tbsp lemon juice added)
- 1 Leek stalk
- Pinch of fine sea salt to sautée leeks
- Coconut or Extra Virgin Olive Oil for sauteeing leeks (optional)
- 2 Cups Oat Milk or other plant milk
- 2 Tbsp Arrowroot Powder
- Pinch fine sea salt for bechamel
- 1 Pouch Saffron Powder (about 1/2 tsp)
- Pinch Grated Nutmeg
- 1/4 C Vegan Walnut Parm
- 6 Lasagne sheets (I used rectangular whole spelt sheets, use gluten free if required)
- Prepare lasagne sheets according to package directions and preheat oven to 180 C.
- Prepare a lemon water bath in a large bowl. Clean the artichokes by slicing them in half horizontally, removing the prickly points and tearing away the rough outer leaves, until you get to the tender leaves on the center, just short of reaching the hearts. Slice them in half lengthwise and use a small spoon to remove the prickly centers from the base of the heart. Slice them in quarters and add them to the lemon water bath until they are ready to use.
- Slice the leek stalk in half horizontally, dividing the white part from the green part. Slice the white part into think rounds, wash and set aside. Slice the green parts lengthwise into strips, wash and set aside.
- In a skillet or wok, heat up the oil if using and sautee the leek rounds with a pinch of fine sea salt for 2-3 minutes. If not using oil, sautee the leeks in a bit of water. Add the strained artichokes and 1/3 cup of water and sautee for 8-10 min on medium heat, adding and additional 1/3 cup of water as the water dries out. Once artichokes are tender, remove from heat and set aside.
- Quickly blanch the green leek strips by placing them in boiling water for about 2-3 minutes until wilted. Remove from water and set aside.
- To prepare the Bechamel, add 2 cups of plant milk to a small pot over medium-low heat. Dilute the arrowroot powder and saffron in water (use just a bit more than the amount of powder). Once liquid is warm, but not boiling, add the diluted saffron arrowroot mixture and a pinch of nutmeg and stir to combine. Continue to cook until the Bechamel is thick, yet still a bit fluid. It will thicken somewhat once baked. Remove from heat and begin to assemble the lasagne.
- Spread a small amount of Bechamel on the bottom of an oven safe baking dish, and create layers with a lasagne sheet, some Bechamel, some artichoke mixture and a sprinkle vegan walnut Parm. Repeat with the other two lasagne sheets, topping everything off with the blanched leek strips.
- Bake at 180 C for about 30 minutes or until the tops are slightly browned and the Bechamel is bubbling.