Last week our CSA members received two items that scared them in the same box: escarole and fennel. Sometimes I feel bad throwing things at people they’ve never used before, but I have to be honest here, usually I don’t. I kind of adore giving our CSA members vegetables that they find intimidating. Things that they wouldn’t ordinarily use. I promise it’s out of love more than anything else.
When my Carrot first started working at an organic vegetable farm six years ago, he would bring me home crates upon crates of seconds (i.e. bruised and imperfect veggies and/or stuff no one wants). I too had no idea what to do with a lot of the stuff. I too would Google recipes tirelessly only to find one that was not at all tasty and I think I didn’t like x vegetable. I too would let stuff rot. But I kept on trying.
As we began our own farm and ended up with even larger heaping crates of seconds I felt guilty not using up, I continued experimenting and cooking with things I wasn’t used to buying at the grocery store. I went from a girl who claimed to be healthy but rarely got three servings of veggies a day into her diet to a grown woman who now doesn’t know how to cook if she don’t have a bunch of vegetables in front of her.
Because of my experience, I keep on shoveling the veggies at my CSA members. Even the ones that scare them. I think it’s what makes the CSA so model beautiful.
I think receiving a weekly box of foods that are both familiar and unfamiliar is a way to bring a little adventure into your day to day life. A way to be challenged and inspired. A way to grow and learn and be excited about food. I feel the way about food that I feel about travel. The things that are outside the ordinary that make me a little uncomfortable are the things that ultimately make me a better human even if there’s some stress along the way.
So this is how I came to create a recipe with not one but two vegetables that many people think they don’t like and even more people don’t know what to do with. And you know what, it’s freaking delicious. The cream sauce is heavenly because the beautiful and talented Ina Garten came up with it. The portabellas lend an earthiness and heartiness that keeps you full all day. The fennel and escarole melt down to nothingness as you cook them. The wilted greens and shaved fennel together are bright and packed with flavor. The escarole is ever so slightly bitter and the fennel ever so slightly sweet making them a match made in heaven.
The flavors of this dish really transport me to another place and that’s what I love most about food. And why I’ll never stop experimenting.
PORTOBELLA, ESCAROLE & FENNEL LASAGNA WITH WHITE SAUCE
Inspired by the great Ina Garten
Takes 1 hour, 30 minutes
Serves 6-8 depending on your appetite
12 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup flour
4 cups warm whole milk (whole is preferred, but 2% will also work fine), I throw mine in the microwave for 60 seconds to warm it
1 tablespoon Kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dried lasagna noodles
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound portobella mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed, and sliced 1/4-inch
1 head escarole, roughly chopped (about 6 cups)
1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
1-1/2 cups freshly shredded Parmesan
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- While waiting for the water to boil, begin your white sauce. Melt 8 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium low heat. Once fully melted, add the flour and stir constantly with a whisk for 1 minute. Pour in the warm milk, 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper and whisk consistently for 15-20 minutes, scraping the bottom and edges of the pan occasionally, or until mixture is thickened. Remove from heat.
- By now, your water is likely boiling. Add the lasagna noodles and cook for 10 minutes or until al dente. Strain, toss with olive oil in colander and set aside.
- Meanwhile, melt remaining butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for 3-5 minutes until fragrant. Add mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes until just beginning to release their juices. Add the escarole and fennel and cook until greens are wilted, about 5 minutes longer. There will likely be a lot of liquid in the pan. That’s fine.
- In a 9×13-inch pan, begin to layer the lasagna. First spread about a 1/2 cup of sauce on the bottom of the pan, just enough to cover it followed by three noodles, overlapped slightly. Add 1/4 of the remaining sauce followed by 1/3 of the mushroom mixture, and 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Continue this layering two more times: noodles, sauce, mushroom mixture and Parmesan. Finishing with a fourth layer of noodles, the remaining sauce and cheese.
- Bake the lasagna for 45 minutes, until the top is browned and bubbly. Let set for 15 minutes before diving in. Serve with a simple green salad.