Artichoke & Fennel Lasagne
(a 9" x 9" pan, serves 9 - 12 as a side dish)
Clean and prepare:
20 artichokes (trim to quartered hearts or use baby artichokes)
 
Saute in olive oil, with:
1 onion, sliced
2-3 bulbs  fennel root, cleaned and sliced
2-4 cloves  garlic, minced
 
After a few minutes, add the artichokes and:
1-2 c chicken stock
1/4 c parsley, chopped
2 T fresh mint, minced
a pinch chili flakes
 
Cover and cook over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed and the artichokes are tender.
 
Prepare a bechamel sauce:
6-8 T butter, melted in a saucepan
6 T flour, stirred in until smooth
a pinch salt
4 c milk, pre-heated, then whisked in slowly
 
Heat nearly to a boil on the stove top, then cover and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Make sure the pan you bake in is not more than half full, as it may foam up quite a bit during baking.
 
When the bechamel has cooled a bit, reserve 1/4 of it and stir the rest into the artichoke mixture, along with:
3/4 c grated parmesan cheese
 
Prepare the pasta:
2 eggs, beaten
1+ c semolina flour
a pinch salt
 
Stir together, let sit for an hour or more to soften the semolina, then knead with white flour until cohesive and not sticky.  Divide into thirds and run each piece through a pasta machine at the widest setting at least 20 times until it is satiny and smooth.  Run each piece up to the #5 setting, then divide in half and run through #6.  Hang on a rack to dry.
Drop one or two pieces as a time into salted, boiling water and cook for a minute or two.  Remove and plunge immediately into ice water to stop the cooking.  Pat each piece between two linen towels, then cut them to fit your pan.
To assemble:  Grease a 9x9" glass baking dish with olive oil and line it with lasagna noodles.  Leave noodles lining the sides and overhanging the top of the dish a little.  Spread 1/3 of the artichoke mixture, cover with another layer of noodles, and repeat.  After the topmost layer of pasta, fold over the side pieces, and cover the whole thing with the reserved bechamel sauce.  Top with grated parmesan, and bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes.
Notes & Variations:
  1. This dish takes a couple of hours to prepare, but it is well worth it.  It is very rich, and is best served as a side dish.  Much of it can be prepared in advance and assembled just before cooking, or the whole thing can be prepared and refrigerated (or frozen) before it is cooked (take it out of the fridge several hours before baking).
  2. You really must use homemade pasta for this, as it's impossible to find lasagna noodles thin enough.  It's very easy to make fresh pasta, and this dish alone justifies owning a pasta machine.  If you are short on time, you can layer the undried, uncooked sheets of pasta in the casserole as they are made.  It's especially nice to add a tablespoon of finely minced fresh basil and/or a little ground white pepper to the eggs as you are making the pasta.
  3. Use freshly grated parmesan if possible.
  4. Try substituting fresh tarragon for the mint.  Experiment with the seasoning of the artichoke mixture.
  5. You can make a mushroom bechamel by sauteing sliced mushrooms in the butter, with a little extra olive oil, and/or substituting a cup of mushroom stock for a cup of the milk.
  6. See notes for artichoke cleaning instructions.
This dish was inspired by a recipe by Patricia Unterman that appeared in the San Francisco Examiner magazine in 1998.  Her recipe was derived from a recipe by Carlo Togni.