This pork lasagna recipe was inspired by those delicious little crunches of fennel seed one finds in Italian sausage. To give it even more kick, thinly sliced fennel is baked right in to give it a nice crispy texture and a bit of vegetable content – though, frankly with it’s white colour you may be able to get your kids to eat it…
…or maybe not, but the adults will find it delicious
Pork and Fennel Lasagna(serves 6)
Heat a large frying pan to medium heat. Add one teaspoon of the olive oil and then the ground pork. Start browning the pork, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon as it cooks. While this is cooking place the fennel seeds and pepper flakes in a mortar and pestle. Grind until all the seeds are broken, but not as fine as dust. Sprinkle over the meat as it cooks along with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and freshly ground pepper. When the meat has started to brown, you likely have a significant amount of fat in the pan. Pour it off and discard. Now stir in the onion. Continue cooking until onion is soft. Now add the red wine, and allow to cook down for 2 minutes, then add the tomato paste and tomatoes. Stir well to combine and use a spoon to gently break apart the tomatoes. Allow to simmer gently for 15 minutes (or more) to blend. If your lasagna noodles need cooking, start boiling a pot of water.
In the meanwhile you want to gently cook the fennel. First off remove any of the fronds of the fennel and discard (or reserve for garnish). Cut the bulb in half and remove the core. Now slice very thin, either with your fabulous knife skills or, like me, with a mandolin.
Heat a dutch oven to medium with the remaining olive oil Wash the sliced fennel throughly and add to the pot along with a big pinch of salt. Stir and cover. Checking every 5 minutes and stirring as needed to wilt the fennel. (You could cook it raw in the lasagna, but I haven't tested this and it may release too much water so let me know if you try this.) Softening the fennel should only take 10 minutes. Turn on your oven to 350F.
If your lasagna noodles require cooking, cook them now. Slice the mozzarelle thinly or grate it. Prepare a 12" square dish by placing a few tablespoons of red sauce on the bottom and distributing evenly. Build the lasagna as follows: a layer of noodles, a layer of ricotta, a layer of red sauce, a layer of fennel and then a layer of mozzarella. With this recipe (and my pan) I am able to get five layers, plus I retain just enough sauce and mozzarella to add a bit of each to the top. You can always add more layers of noodles if you desire. Repeat layers until lasagne is complete. Transfer to oven and bake for 35 minutes. Allow to cool outside of the oven for 10 before serving.