Lasagna with Basil and Fennel

When I was in high school, I harbored an unhealthy obsession for lasagna. I loved the stuff. I would order it at any restaurant that would make it and revel in the gooeyness. And having leftovers to bring home was the icing on the cake -- however, I would usually open the fridge the next day to find that someone had absconded with my food. This person was always my little sister, who also loved to eat lasagna.

So the last time I was home, she asked Daniel and I to make one. We decided to go with this recipe, because it's not often you see basil and fennel paired with lasagna. And boy, it was a good choice. We made a 9 x 13" pan of it and the three of us managed to polish it off by the next day. The herbs really add great depth of flavor to the dish, and almost takes away the heaviness that lasagna can sometimes have. The no-boil noodles are also a genius idea -- they're so much easier to work with than the traditional noodles, and they soak up the sauce with delectable results.

Basil can be a little hard to find in the winter, but please don't skimp. 2 cups does sound like a prodigious amount, but the baking does dull the flavor slightly. If you can't find fresh basil, you might have some luck with the frozen kind you can get in little cubes at TJ's -- we used about 2/3 of a tray once with great results (just add it to the sauce). But whatever you do, don't use the dried stuff.

Lasagna with Basil and Fennel

1 lb mozarella cheese, grated
1 15-oz container ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 1/2 lbs ground turkey
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp thyme
12 oz button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes with added puree
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine

9 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 packed cups fresh basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix 1 cup mozarella cheese, ricotta cheese, egg and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese in a medium bowl. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and fennel seeds; saute 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms; saute 3 minutes. Add the turkey; saute 10 minutes. Mix in the oregano and thyme, then the tomatoes, broth and wine. Cover and simmer 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon 1 cup of sauce over the bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2" glass baking dish. Place 3 noodles over the sauce. Drop half of the ricotta cheese mixture by tablespoons evenly over. Top with half of the basil leaves, 1 cup mozarella cheese, 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese. Spoon 1 cup of sauce over the cheese, and layer with more noodles. Spoon over 1 cup of sauce, the remaining ricotta mixture, the remaining basil, 1 cup mozarella cheese and the remaining 1/2 cup parmesan cheese. Finish with 3 noodles, 2 cups of sauce and remaining mozarella cheese. Cover with foil and place on the baking rack.

Bake until heated through, about 1 hour. Uncover the lasagna about 45 minutes in to brown the cheese. Let stand for 15 minutes after you remove the lasagna from the oven before serving.

Serves 8.

Adapted from Bon App├ętit, March 2001.

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