Who remembers the animated cartoons of Popeye the Sailor? He would save his sweetie Olive Oyl from the hands of the villain Bluto after he got his dosage of super spinach. As soon as he downed that can of spinach his muscles would pop out and he would get mega superpowers, which would allow him to lift huge tree trunks, iron bars and beat Bluto black and blue.
All this from just a can of spinach?
So, what is behind spinach anyway? I remember mummy telling me to eat up my spinach - "it's healthy and full of iron!"
Well now I am 34 and although I know that spinach is a powerhouse, I also know that spinach has somewhat of a shady side to it too.
Spinach contains oxalic acid which inhibits the absorption of its calcium and iron. It also contains other nutrients that are not fully absorbed when it is consumed raw. However, this is not to say that spinach is not good for you.
It's loaded with calcium, folic acid, vitamin K and iron. What's more spinach has a low calorie count and has more protein than many other vegetables and is abundant in vitamins and minerals. It has been researched that certain carotenoids found in spinach and other green leafy vegetables may help fight human prostate cancer. It helps to make bones stronger and healthier, as one cup of fresh spinach leaves provides about 200% of the daily value for vitamin K. Heart health may also be strengthened by the folate content of spinach.
There are 4 basic types of spinach:
- Savoy is dark green with crinkly and curly leaves. It is sold in fresh bunches in most supermarkets.
- Flat/smooth leaf spinach has broad smooth leaves. This spinach type is often grown for canned and frozen spinach.
- Semi-savoy is a hybrid. It has slightly crinkled leaves and has the same texture as savoy, but it is not as difficult to clean. It is grown for both fresh market and processing.
- Baby spinach is a smaller Flat-Leaf variety. It is very tender and desirable for salads.
Spinach originated in Persia, where the earliest records of its cultivation go back 2,000 years. In the 600's it was introduced to China and brought to Spain around 1100. The Spaniards brought it to America. By the 16th century it was well established in Europe.
Selecting and Storing
When buying spinach choose leaves that are vibrant deep green and stems have no signs of yellowing. The leaves should be fresh and tender, and not be wilted or bruised.
Fresh spinach should be loosely packed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. It will keep fresh for about five days. Avoid washing it before storing as the moisture will cause it to spoil. Cooked spinach does not keep very well.
So, with this wealth of knowledge on spinach you understand why I have been going spinach mad lately with a Spinach Salad, a Spinach Bread and now this delicious Spinach Chicken Lasagna. Have I got little Popeye type super muscles yet? No, not yet, but I know I am serving a super powered vegetable for my family and myself. Being so versatile, spinach is one of my favorite foods and I always feel really satisfied after a nice spinach meal.
Come celebrate Spring with me. This month Spring Is In The Air.
Deadline: May 09, 2007!
Music while cooking:
Beautiful Liar - Shakira & Beyoncé
Listen to it
500g Spinach leaves - you can also use frozen spinach here
2kg ground chicken meat
2 garlic cloves - crushed
3 slices bacon - chopped
450g canned tomatoes
120g tomato puree
120 ml tomato sauce - use your favorite Italian style tomato sauce for this. Homemade is best but store bought is fine too.
120 ml chicken stock
Fresh lasagna sheets - you can use dried ones here to but don't pre-cook them.
120g Parmesan cheese - grated
For the cheese sauce
120g Parmesan cheese - grated
Pre-heat oven at 180 degrees Celsius. If using fresh spinach chop off the stems and clean thoroughly. Frozen spinach should be thawed completely and drained of all access water. In a large pan heat up some olive oil and sauté the spinach gently, jut enough so that it falls together. Take out and place in ice water so that it retains its color and does not cook further. Take out and allow to drain.
Add some more oil to the pan and brown the meat, bacon and garlic on a medium heat for about 5 minutes. Pour in the tomato sauce, tomatoes, tomato puree and chicken stock and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat, place the lid so that it covers half of the pan and simmer until the sauce thickens - approx. 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
For the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium sized pan and sprinkle with the flour. On a low heat, gently cook the mixture for approx. minute until it takes on color and has a smooth texture. Remove from heat and slowly mix in the milk. Place back on a medium heat and under constant mixing warm through for approx. 4 minutes. The sauce will thicken and foam slightly. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.
Now it's time to assemble the lasagna. Grease a deep oven proof form and pour 1/4 of the chicken/tomato sauce onto the base of the form. Cover with enough lasagna sheets and then pour in 1/3 of the cheese sauce. Cover this with more lasagna sheets then add the spinach and cover again with lasagna sheets. Pour in another 1/3 cheese sauce, lasagna sheets and then the chicken sauce. Once again cover with lasagna sheets. Repeat this until all the ingredients have been used up, leaving the top layer covered in cheese sauce. Sprinkle with grated cheese.
Place in the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is nice and golden. Serve with garlic bread and a nice Chianti!
On your marks, get set ....GO! This dish has my men ready to dig in with forks in their hands. Even I can hardly wait to cut out a nice big, steaming piece of this lasagna. Satisfying and fulfilling to the core. Not convinced? Take one last look at the picture. Now tell me ... want a bit? ;-)
Jihva comes a full circle and is back home at Mahanandi with it's creator, Indira. She chose to celebrate Leafy Green Vegetables. This is my offering.
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