This recipe was dreamt up during our brainstorming session, last Monday. Hubby had wanted to make a Lasagne since for ever and it just seemed that the time was right for the Lasagne, as we were having a bit of an Italian theme.
We picked a day when (we hoped!) we wouldn't have too much else on, so that he could give the recipe the time it required. We didn't want him to be rushing the various stages, as when you're developing a recipe from scratch and without a recipe to follow, some times you need time in which to make changes.
As it was, he travelled through the various stages (starting in the morning, with the fennel sauce) without mishap or any changes to the original plan - and the end result was pretty darned exceptional. It continued being exceptional the following day for lunch, too!
I'll pass you over to hubby now, so that he can talk you through the process :
As most people will already know, a classic Lasagne has several elements and cooking stages to tussle with. These include making two sauces and then assembling with pasta sheets before smothering in cheese and then letting the oven do the rest. In truth, one could pre-buy the sauces and then just put the thing together in a dish for a perfectly good Lasagne...but where's the fun in that eh? This recipe adds a couple of extra tasks which aren't very taxing but do add a little to the time required. For the sake of simplicity, I'll list all of the ingredients needed for all of the stages and then move on to the method.
TUNA & VEGETABLE LASAGNE (serves 5-6)
For the Tomato & Tuna Sauce
1 medium Onion (or three banana shallots), chopped small
1 clove Garlic, minced
2 Tbs Olive oil
1 Courgette, chopped to 1cm pieces
1 large Carrot, chopped to 1cm pieces
6 Asparagus stalks, tips removed, stems cut to 1cm pieces
185g Tin of tuna, in Water or Brine (130g drained weight)
1 Tin Chopped Tomatoes
2 tbs Tomato Puree
1 tsp Oregano
1 tsp Basil
1/2 tsp Thyme
Dash of Worcester Sauce
For the Fennel Bechamel
1 Fennel (preferably with lots of the green frondy parts on top)
200ml good Vegetable stock (I use Marigold stock powder)
75g Salted Butter
75g Plain Flour
2 pints semi skimmed Milk
Pinch of Nutmeg.
1 pack Lasagne sheets
100g grated Cheddar Cheese
75g grated Parmesan
1. Take the fennel and slice into thin strips, reserving the green frondy parts, and place in a small saucepan with the vegetable stock. Simmer these together for ten minutes or until the fennel softens. Drain the stock into a cup and set aside before using a hand blender to puree the softened fennel. Put the fennel puree into a bowl and set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan and then mix in the flour, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Take great care not to let the flour burn on the bottom of the pan or you'll have to start all over again. A thick paste, called a roux, will quickly form in the pan. Keep stirring for a few minutes to allow the flour to cook out before adding enough milk to loosen the roux.
3. Keep adding more milk, little by little, making sure that it mixes in well, until you have a thick sauce. At this stage it's probably best to switch to a balloon whisk as you continue to add more milk until the sauce gets to a nice consistency. I aim for a bit thicker than double cream. At this stage, season the sauce with salt (not too much, remember the butter was salted) pepper and a little grated nutmeg. Now add the pureed fennel and the finely chopped green frondy parts. Bear in mind, that the flour in the sauce will continue to cook and thicken throughout the whole process so you may need to readjust the consistency, by adding more milk, after adding the fennel puree.
4. Taste to check the seasoning and add more if necessary, before setting the sauce aside. As a final point, I should mention that classic bechamel uses milk which had previously been infused with onion and cloves. I elected not to use infused milk because I didn't want to lose the delicate flavour of the fennel.
Now go and have a nice cuppa.....your whisking arm will thank you for it.
5. For the tomato sauce you will need firstly to par boil the carrots in just enough water to cover them until they are slightly tender before being set aside. Keep the liquid that the carrots cooked in as this will be added to the tomato sauce, along with the fennel stock reserved earlier.
6. Saute the onion and garlic gently in the olive oil until soft. Add the herbs and cook for a minute or two before stirring in the tomato puree. Allow this to cook for a few minutes and then add the chopped tomatoes and the reserved cooking liquids from the fennel and the carrots. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the tomato sauce has thickened a little, before adding the courgette and asparagus.
7. Cook through until the vegetables begin to feel tender and then stir in the drained tuna. After adding a dash of worcester sauce, check for seasoning and consistency, which should be a nice thick ragu-a-like, before adding the carrots and then taking the pan off the heat.
Both sauces should be allowed to cool a little before assembly, which goes like this:
8. Firstly place a thin layer of the bechamel on the bottom of the lasagne dish. This layer is here purely to prevent the lasagne sheets from sticking to the bottom of the dish. Now place a layer of lasagne sheets to cover the whole base of the dish and then top it with half of the tomato sauce. Another layer of pasta is followed by a layer of bechamel, then pasta, then tomato, then pasta and finally a top layer of bechamel.
9. The whole lasagne can now be put aside for cooking later in the day or frozen for cooking another time (allow an extra 45 mins in the oven if cooking from frozen).
10. When ready to cook, sprinkle the grated cheddar evenly over the top and then the finely grated parmesan over that. If cheese isn't really your thing (quelle horreur!) then the cheddar can be omitted....but definitely not the parmesan.
11. Cook in the oven, preheated to 180c for 45 minutes, rotating the dish halfway through cooking. When ready, remove from the oven and allow to rest for at least 10-15 minutes. Ideally, lasagne should be served warm, rather than hot (oh, and the aroma generated will drive your family nuts....hehe).
Serve with your preference of salad.