I have a wonderful book called ‘Vegetables from an Italian Garden’ and I have a wonderful vegetable garden from which to cook. The book is so different to any other vegetable book I know; it is very hard to explain why, except that the recipes for each vegetable are simple, always delicious, made for gardeners and not full of cheese, tomato paste and pasta. It also is about growing the vegetables and is arranged by season.
On Tuesdays I cook some meals for a busy, local family. They collect a range of vegetarian things from my home; always including some soup, mains, patties, bread and salads which I make with vegetables from my garden whenever I can. I make enough of each dish for me as well which saves me cooking for a couple of nights.
They love a big baked pasta dish, full of cheese, to feed the hungry teenagers. But I am not so keen on this, so this week I adapted it to my tastes and baked mine in a separate dish. I have some beautiful, voluptuous fennel bulbs in my garden at the moment which will bolt soon so now is the time to use them.
The fennel filling part of the recipe was inspired by the book I mentioned, which has several lovely recipes for fennel bulbs. I didn’t know it was going to be sooooo delicious and did not take photos but, anyway, it doesn’t look that exciting!
This is what I did for my version but is enough for a large lasagne dish. There is more explanation at the bottom. I am so hopeless!!:
- Top and tail 3 large fennel bulbs, making sure they are free from slugs if they are from your garden like mine were!
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Put the fennel bulbs in and simmer 30 minutes. Drain but reserve the liquid. Slice the fennel thinly when cool enough to handle.
- At the same time bring another pan of water to the boil and cook plenty of good quality pasta, eg fettuccine, orecchiette, penne or other.
- Hard boil 3 eggs. Peel and carefully slice into quarters.
- Chop 2 or 3 stems of fresh spring garlic stems, all of them, from bottom to the top of the greens. Or, if you have garlic bulbs, crush and chop several cloves.
- Chop up a good handful of greens, such as mizuna, silver beet etc
- Chop up some mushrooms if you have them but ok to omit.
- Make a green peppercorn sauce, using some of the fennel cooking water. Make it runnier than my recipe on that link.
- Have some grated cheese at hand for the top…. Just a little, don’t drown out the subtle flavours of this dish with too much cheese!
When you are ready, just assemble the layers into a large baking dish:
- first start with a drizzle of the peppercorn sauce
- then half of the pasta.
- next, half the sliced fennel bulbs, eggs, mushrooms, greens, garlic
- then half the peppercorn sauce
- repeat and sprinkle the top with a good cheese but not too much
- pour 1/2 cup or more of water around the edges
Bake 160C for 20 minutes until just beginning to colour a little. You don’t want it all dark and crisp like you do with a tomatoey lasagne.
***Actually, I made mine in a single serve soufflé dish, and only had 1 layer. For the big one I made for the family I used 1/2 the green peppercorn sauce recipe and put that in the middle but for the top I mixed 2 eggs and a fair bit of yoghurt, poured than over and then grated cheese onto it. But if you don’t have home made yoghurt or your own chooks, then the peppercorn sauce on top would be fine…. I eat it by the spoonful.***