Tag: fennel seeds

Fennel Tomato Lasagna with Crunchy Bacon

Bacon Fennel Tomato Lasagna

A couple days ago, my boyfriend and I went to a meeting that finished much earlier than expected. We stepped out into the street on a cold and grey morning, looked at each other, and decided to squeeze in a quick coffee-date. Just the two of us, a black espresso for him, a creamy cappuccino for me, and a flaky chocolate croissant to share. We’re both a bit fed up with all the fancy cafés that sprout like weeds in our neighbourhood and always tend to look the same, no matter if you’re in Berlin, London, or New York. So, we went to our favourite Italian deli for a bit of dolce vita – sipping a fantastic coffee while listening to the patron chatting with his customers in Italian accompanied by a medley of Italian operas. A toddler giggled at us the whole time we sat on our wooden stools and two dogs observed the busy scene (which I usually don’t like in restaurants but they were too cute). The shelves around us presented a tempting selection of chiantis, pasta, polenta, capers, and bottarga. The counter right in front of us was filled with various prosciuttos, salami, ciabatta sandwiches, and homemade pasta treats. And right next to it, we could see scrumptious bowls of every antipasti one can possibly think of. Just the thought of it makes me hungry again.

This is the kind of scene that makes you want to go straight to your kitchen, open a bottle of wine, and start cooking. Italian of course. The weather doesn’t leave the slightest doubt that spring isn’t near yet, so a hearty lasagna is the best thing to have on your plate. Mine is filled with lots of juicy tomatoes, roasted fennel seeds, and the bulb thinly sliced and sautéed, plus crunchy bacon bites, dried chili peppers, a bit of parmesan, and a creamy béchamel sauce. At first, I wanted to combine the fennel with a meaty bolognese but then I remembered a pasta dish that I shared on the blog almost 2 years ago and that changed my mind. You could leave out the bacon, but I recommend you keep it – as long as you’re not a vegetarian. The fennel seeds roast in the meat’s salty juices and merge with the tinned tomatoes into a heavenly sauce. Layered with pasta sheets and the crisp fennel bulb, it’s just what I want on a cold day in February.

Bacon Fennel Tomato Lasagna

 

Bacon Fennel Tomato Lasagna

Fennel Tomato Lasagna with Crunchy Bacon

Serves 4 to 6

For the béchamel sauce

milk 700 ml / 3 cups
a pinch of nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
fine sea salt
ground pepper
unsalted butter 30g / 2 tablespoons
plain flour 30g / 4 tablespoons
large bay leaf 1

For the lasagna

butter, for the baking dish
olive oil
cored fennel bulb, thinly sliced lengthwise, 340g / 12 ounces
fine sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
thick-cut bacon, cut into very small cubes, 200g / 7 ounces
fennel seeds 2 tablespoons
garlic, crushed, 3 cloves
small dried chili peppers, 2
peeled whole tinned tomatoes, chopped, 1.2kg / 2 2/3 pounds
no-boil lasagna noodles, about 250g / 9 ounces
freshly grated Parmesan 100g / 3 1/2 ounces

For the béchamel sauce, combine the milk, nutmeg, and pinches of salt and pepper in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately take the pan off the heat and set aside.

To make the roux for the béchamel, melt the butter in a clean medium saucepan over medium-high heat and as soon as it’s sizzling hot, whisk in the flour. Slowly pour the hot milk mixture into the roux and whisk until smooth. Add the bay leaf and simmer on low, whisking occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes or until the texture starts to thicken. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt, and pepper then cover, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F (conventional setting) and butter a 26 x 20 cm / 10 x 8″ baking dish (or a dish of roughly this size).

In a large, heavy pan, heat a generous splash of olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the fennel slices in batches for about 1 minute per side or until golden and al dente. Spread out the fennel slices next to each other in the pan so that they cook evenly. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a plate.

Put the pan back on the heat and cook the bacon over medium-high heat for about 7-10 minutes or until golden brown and crunchy. Add a little oil if necessary and stir once in a while. Scrape the bacon to the sides of the pan, add a little olive oil (if the pan is too dry) and the fennel seeds, garlic, and chili. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 2 minutes, mind that the seeds don’t turn too dark. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and, stirring occasionally, cook for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat or until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Take the pan off the heat and set aside 3 tablespoons of the sauce (for the final layer of the lasagna).

Arrange a layer of pasta on the bottom of the buttered baking dish and spread with 1/3 of the tomato-bacon sauce and sprinkle with 1/4 of the béchamel. Top with 1/3 of the sautéed fennel and 1/4 of the Parmesan. Repeat to make 3 more layers, top the last layer with pasta. Sprinkle with the reserved 3 tablespoons of the tomato-bacon sauce and the remaining béchamel and Parmesan. Bake for 35-45 minutes (depending on the lasagna package instructions) or until the pasta is al dente. To brown the cheese a little, you can switch on the broiler for the last 1 to 2 minutes. Let the lasagna sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving and sprinkle with some crushed peppercorns. Enjoy!

Bacon Fennel Tomato Lasagna

 

Bacon Fennel Tomato Lasagna

 

Bacon Fennel Tomato Lasagna

 

baconfenneltomatolasagna8

 

baconfenneltomatolasagna10

 

Bacon Fennel Tomato Lasagna

Crispy Pan-Roasted Fennel Potatoes

Fennel Potatoes

Fennel seeds are one my favourite spices, preferably the ones I buy from a lovely lady at the market in Marsaxlokk in Malta. Her harvest grows under the hot Mediterranean sun, the plants dig their roots into the limestone soil and clay, in the rich Garrigue. This is the name of a unique and protected ecoregion, scrubland that you find close to the island’s coast line, it’s rocky and dry and looks a bit like a moon landscape. The ground seems poor but it’s actually quite rich in minerals washed out from the rocks, they nurture wild thyme and fennel and add a strong aroma to the vegetation. A single fennel seed is enough to smell and taste the difference compared to the products you can buy in most shops.

My Maltese fennel seeds and the plant’s bulb (not from Malta but organic) are the fragrant secrets of my rustic pan filled with golden crisp potatoes. The seeds’ and vegetable’s sweetness fits perfectly to the yellow roots, together they create an aromatic variation on a comfy kitchen classic. I roasted my potato slices a few hours after they cooked, you have to give them some time to dry out a little if you’re after a crisp result. They should always spread evenly in the (heavy) pan and not on top of each other while they are cooking. You might have to roast them in batches but the effort is worth it. I cut the fennel bulb in very thin slices, like a carpaccio, and sautéed them for only 2 minutes in fennel seed infused olive oil. They were just al dente when I mixed them in the pan with the roasted potatoes, crunchy fennel seeds, sea salt and coarsely crushed pepper. We picked up our forks and ate straight out of the skillet, a rather rustic style of eating that fit perfectly to the dish.

Fennel Potatoes

 

Fennel Potatoes

Crispy Pan-Roasted Fennel Potatoes

For 2-3 people you need

waxy potatoes, peeled, boiled and rinsed, 700g / 1 1/2 pounds
small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced, the green chopped, for the topping, 1
quality fennel seeds (preferably organic), 1 1/2 tablespoons
olive oil
sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar

Let the potatoes cool and dry on a wire rack for at least 1 hour or a day and cut them into thick slices. In a large heavy pan, heat a generous splash of olive oil and fry the potatoes on medium-high for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. Cook them in batches and turn them one by one with a fork to keep their shape. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat a splash of olive oil in another pan and cook the fennel seeds on medium heat for 1 minute (they shouldn’t get dark). Pull the pan off the heat, take just the seeds out with a tablespoon and set them aside. Put the pan back on and add the fennel slices, sauté them on medium for about 1 minute on each side without getting dark, they should be al dente. Gently mix the roasted potatoes, fennel seeds and slices in the pan and season with salt and pepper to taste, serve immediately.

Fennel Potatoes

 

Fennel Potatoes

 

Fennel Potatoes

Braised Lamb Shanks with Kumquat, Fennel, Cardamom and Mint

Braised Lamb Shanks with Kumquat, Fennel and Mint

This is the most tender, aromatic and colourful braised dish you can possibly have on your plate at this time of year, at least in the Northern hemisphere. Cardamom, cumin, fennel and coriander seeds refine the deep red juices of summery (tinned) tomatoes cooked with succulent lamb shanks before tiny yellow kumquats add their bittersweet fruitiness. The fresh mint leaves on top are more than just pretty in this warming composition, their job is to freshen it up! A sheer explosions of aromas!

Over the years, I have become a big fan of shanks in my kitchen whenever I’m in the mood for a stew. Be it beef, veal or lamb, I prefer this cut over chuck steaks. The meat around the bone is packed in fat which keeps it juicy and tender while it braises in a fragrant broth of wine, fruit and vegetables. Shanks usually taste quite strong, they can easily deal with spices and herbs, perfect for Mediterranean comfort cooking with lots of rosemary, thyme, sage and garlic, or to find some inspiration in the Arabic cuisine. All those spices, those warming corns, pods and powders, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, cinnamon and many more, this is the best moment to let their qualities shine. Spices are great on their own but even better in a team. Be experimental, combine your favourites and use a little bit more than you usually would, the meat and sauce can take it!

Braised Lamb Shanks with Kumquat, Fennel and Mint

 

Braised Lamb Shanks with Kumquat, Fennel and Mint

Braised Lamb Shanks with Kumquat, Fennel, Cardamom and Mint

You need an oven proof dish / casserole dish with a lid for this recipe.

For 3-4 people you need

lamb shanks 3-4
fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar, 2 teaspoons
coriander seeds, crushed in a mortar, 1 teaspoon
ground cardamom 1 teaspoon
ground cumin 1 teaspoon
medium sized onion, finely chopped, 1
garlic, cut in half, 4 cloves
white wine 400ml / 1 pint
tinned tomatoes of good quality (it’s worth going for a good brand!) 400g / 14 ounces
bay leaves 2
orange peel 4 long strips
kumquats, rinsed, 8
sea salt and pepper
olive oil
fresh mint leaves, a small handful

Set the oven to 160°C / 320°F.

In a casserole dish, heat a splash of olive oil and sear the shanks for a few minutes until golden brown on all sides. Take the meat out and set it aside but keep the casserole dish on the heat. Add a little more olive oil and the fennel seeds, coriander, cardamom and cumin, cook for about 20 seconds on medium heat or until you smell the spices, stir constantly. Add the onions and garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Mix the lamb shanks with the spices and onion and pour the wine over the meat. Season with salt and pepper. Add the orange peel, bay leaves and tomatoes, chop them roughly, mix everything and bring to a simmer. Close the casserole dish with a lid and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Add the kumquats (whole, not cut) and cook for another 30 minutes or until the meat is tender and you can lift it with a fork off the bone.

If necessary, take out the meat when it’s done and cook down the sauce. Season to taste and serve with fresh mint leaves and thick slices of white bread or flatbread.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Kumquat, Fennel and Mint

 

Braised Lamb Shanks with Kumquat, Fennel and Mint