Tomato, Fennel Lasagne with Pistachio Aillade

I was thinking of apologising for yet another post on tomatoes, but as it’s summer here, and there is a bounty of this luscious fruit everywhere, I’ll just do it without apology. To begin with, if you don’t want to pre-cook your fresh lasagne sheets, buy fresh pasta, that needs no pre-cooking. If that’s what you’ve chosen to do, just add ½ cup of pouring cream to the béchamel sauce after it has been prepared. The reason for this is, these no pre-cook, fresh pastas require a little more liquid for them to cook in the dish. Also, if making the Aillade is just not your thing (and I do urge you to give it a go sometime, as it’s fabulous with so many things) just scatter fresh basil, or tarragon over the ricotta and roasted vegetables. Perfectly lovely too! I’ve made this a couple of times recently for weekend suppers, when we’ve craved the comfort of a lasagne, without the usual, but always delicious ragu. And I might add, it’s stood the comparison very well, and gone down a treat.

 Serves 6

You will need

  • 3 sheets of fresh pasta dough. (Mine measured 22cm x 28cm as this was the size of my dish.)
  • 300g fresh ricotta cheese
  • 50-70g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3tbsp butter
  • The roasted vegetables
  • béchamel sauce
  • 2/3 of the Aillade

Roasted vegetables

  • 800g small Roma tomatoes
  • 3 bulbs fennel
  • 3 large brown onions
  • Fresh thyme sprigs
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 180C. Slice tomatoes in half, lay on baking tray, scatter with thyme sprigs, sea salt, pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.

Cut onions and fennel into thick slices and lay on another tray. Scatter with thyme sprigs, sea salt, pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.

Put both trays in the oven, tomato tray in top half of oven, onions and fennel below it. Roast for 1 hour, turning the onions and fennel over after ½ hour. After 1 hour the onions and fennel should be cooked and nicely caramelised, if so take them out and let cool. The tomatoes will need another ½ hour, take them out, and let cool. Discard thyme sprigs.

Béchamel Sauce

  • 60g butter
  • 60g plain flour
  • 500ml full cream milk
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, sea salt and black pepper

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a low heat and then add the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to bubble and lighten in colour. Continue to cook for a minute or two, but don’t allow the mixture to brown. Now, switch to a hand whisk and add your cold milk, little by little, until it has all been absorbed and the mixture starts to thicken. Continue to cook for several minutes over a low heat, whisking constantly, until the béchamel is thick and smooth. Season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper - and set aside.

Pistachio Aillade

I have used David Lebovitz’s recipe, but used less garlic, and added a little orange oil to the mix. Be sure to use fresh pistachios, I store mine in the fridge after buying them.

I also made this in my food processor, just be sure to stop the machine a few times to scrape down the sides to make sure everything is being incorporated properly.

  • 110g shelled pistachios, unsalted
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, green germ removed, and minced
  • 1/4tsp salt
  • 3tbsp water
  • 90-125ml extra virgin olive oil
  • A splash of brandy
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1tsp orange, extra virgin olive oil. Optional
  • Preheat oven to 180C.

Spread pistachios on a small baking sheet and put in the oven for 3 minutes, just enough to warm them through. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes, and then put into the bowl of a food processor with the minced garlic. Pulse-chop until pistachios are in little pieces. Scrape down the sides, and slowly add the water, and then 90ml of the extra virgin olive oil. Add a splash of brandy, the orange zest, salt, and the orange oil if you have it. Taste, and add the rest of the extra virgin olive oil if it seems too thick. Set aside for the flavours to mellow for a couple of hours, or in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Now, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and place a large bowl of iced water next to the stove. When the water is boiling, add a few drops of olive oil to it to stop the pasta from sticking. Cook the pasta rectangles for 2 minutes, lift out with a slotted spoon and immerse in cold water, then lay on tea towels to dry. Preheat oven to 180C and grease your baking dish with 1tbsp of butter, then smear with 3tbsp of the béchamel sauce and lay a sheet of the pasta on top. Spread 1/3 of the remaining béchamel sauce on to the pasta, then spread the caramelised onions on top, followed by half of the tomatoes. Dollop spoonfuls of ricotta and the aillade around the tomatoes, sprinkle with Parmesan, and top with another sheet of pasta. Repeat now with the fennel, tomatoes, ricotta, aillade and parmesan, and top with the remaining sheet of pasta. Spread the last of the béchamel sauce on top, sprinkle with Parmesan to cover, and dot with 2tbsp of butter. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the surface is golden and bubbling. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.