Fennel and Mushroom Cannellini

If you've never tried fennel, it's wonderful! It has a crisp texture like celery (although a little tougher) and a light, delicate licorice flavor.

This recipe is great comfort food (even if you consider fennel an unusual ingredient, you might still find it comforting!)  It's adapted from one of my friend Christine's favorite vegetarian cookbooks, Fields of Greens, by Annie Somerville.

Instead of pre-made cannellini tubes (which are not that easy to find anyway), I like to use the Barilla "homestyle" no-boil lasagne sheets, which are short, wide lasagne noodles with no ruffles. You do have to boil them for this application, of course, then you roll the filling up inside them like tiny burritos. The original tomato sauce is delicious, but next time I might try it with a bechamel or something lighter to let the delicate flavor of the fennel shine through more.

For the sauce:
1 T olive oil
1 small onion or 1/2 large one, diced
3/4 tsp fennel seed
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup dry red wine
28oz can of tomatoes (~3.5 cups)
salt and pepper
1 bay leaf

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan, cook the onion and garlic with the fennel seeds until tender, then add the rest of the ingredients and simmer 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.

For the filling:
2 Tbs olive oil
1 fennel bulb, quartered and thinly sliced
3 shallots or 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
3/4 lb mushrooms, any kind

1/2 tsp fennel seeds
4 cloves garlic, minced

salt and pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tbs pine nuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (any combo of parsley, thyme, marjoram)
1/2 cup parmesan
1 cup ricotta

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Cook the shallots, fennel, garlic and mushrooms with the fennel seeds, until slightly caramelized. Add the white wine and cook until the pan is almost dry. Mix with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. 

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cook the lasagne noodles 5-10 minutes, just until soft enough to roll. Drain and let them cool a bit, then roll up about 1/2 cup of filling in each one, placing them in rows in a 9x13 pan. Cover with tomato sauce, sprinkle with another 1/2 cup parmesan, and bake for 20-25 minutes.


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