The seasonality of food has always been the way most Greeks cook by. By this I mean that at certain times of the year a given type of food is at its freshest and so tends to be tastier and more nutritious. Consequently, it tends to be less expensive to buy as well. I remember when I first arrived in New York and spotted some watermelons in a super market window and thought to myself as it was still March, ‘indeed this is the land of plenty were you can have anything you want!’ Only to be disappointed when I ate a piece of the watermelon later.
Spring time is very special time for me as artichokes are in season and soon after broad beans are also ready to be eaten. This time is especially beautiful as the fire flies are teeming the countryside and you have nature’s nightly disco on display! My mother makes a dish with these 2 ingredients that has a history as old as Greece itself. Both originating around the Mediterranean, with most of the southern Europeans feasting on them when they’re in season. Broad beans have been cultivated 8000 years ago if not before, while the artichoke were cultivated in Sicily when the Greeks controlled most of that island which was part of Magna Grecia. Artichokes are actually a flower bud – if allowed to flower, blossoms measure up to seven inches in diameter and are a violet-blue color. Artichokes are a close relative to the thistle.
When the hotel opens in May, we often serve this dish to our hotel guests and although most of them have never tried it before while some have never even heard of it; once they cautiously taste it, they are soon converted by its succulent flavours.
The following recipe is simple enough but finding the ingredients should you not be living around the Mediterranean will be a quest in itself! Of course, you can make it with frozen artichokes and frozen broad beans but I would say you lose more than half the flavour and aroma of the dish not to mention most of the nutrients. Maybe that’s why I love it so much, I can only have it around the month of May. But I adore this dish so much that I would have my mother make it even out of season, but not often!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, chopped
2 spring onions (scallion) roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, roughly sliced
⅔ cup (150 grams) chopped fresh fennel, use the erect green leaves rather than the bulb
¼ cup (59 ml) chopped fresh dill
1 cup water
Seasoning of pepper and salt
10 artichokes hearts, cut in half
1 lb/ 500g broad beans (fava beans) from the pod, pierce so they will not explode
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch of oregano
2 potatoes, quartered
1 ½ cups of water
Peas, frozen is fine
To prepare the artichokes, remove the outer leaves of each artichoke revealing the pale inner heart and cut off the stem. Open the inner heart and using a teaspoon remove the hairy choke from each artichoke. Halve the artichoke heart.
Theodora’s Tip… To prevent artichokes from going black before cooking but after they have been prepared, rub them with a halved lemon, then keep them submerged in a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice added, until you are ready to use them.
Place onions, olive oil, green onions, garlic, fennel, dill and 1 cup of water in a deep sauté pan (one with a large flat heating surface and large sides). Braise for 10 minutes so that the dill and fennel will cook well, Theodora told me that you should cook until soft. She also uses these fresh from her garden so they are extra aromatic. Cook until most of the water evaporates.
Stir in artichokes hearts, broad beans, potatoes, 1 ½ cups of water, pinch of nutmeg & oregano and cook for 30 minutes with lid on until artichokes are soft when pierced by fork and all excess moisture evaporates. If necessary, add a little more water until vegetables are soft. Season with pepper. Towards the end add peas so they will be nice and perky. Season with salt and more pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside to cool or serve hot. This could be a meal in itself or as a side dish which ever way it will be well remembered.