Saturday 21 September 2013

Fennel and Lentil Lasagne and The Time of Our Lives

A new twist on lasagne to amaze your friends and family if you tend to drop over with lasagne as they do in The Time of Our Lives, a new Aussie kitchen sink drama.

Television show: The Time of Our Lives, drama, Australia, 2013

What does it mean to me?
The Time of Our Lives is a great new Australian drama that has just finished its first season a couple of weeks ago.  It follows the lives of the Tivoli family through the drama of divorce, searching for birth parents, career dilemmas and blended families.  While some storylines were dealt with rather quickly, generally the drama felt authentic and nuanced.  It also boasted a stellar cast and made Melbourne look warm and appealing.

I have loved watching Claudia Karvan in many shows since the Big Steal and found her character's journey interesting, though she was not someone I warmed to.  More of a revelation was Shane Jacobson who played Luce, husband of Bernadette (played by Justine Clarke).  Suddnely I have developed great respect for him, probably just because I loved the Luce and Bernadette couple.  I also thought Luce's daughter Georgie was just gorgeous.

One of my favourite moments in the show was when Bernadette was looking for hair ties (or some such small thing) and complaining how quickly they disappeared.  I knew just how she felt.  It was a show that seemed to reflect some of the small stuff beautifully as well as the big issues.  A kebab after a night out, putting the kids to bed, bring lasagne around for a family dinner.

Food moment:
The lasagne is only briefly featured as Claudia Karvan's character arrives at Bernadette and Luce's house trying to re-establish routine and relationship with her in-laws after her separation.  In the small gesture so much is said.  How great food is at bringing people together, how food is an ice breaker when you feel a little apprehensive about seeing people, how meals remain an important ritual for families, and how a relationship breakdown impacts on so many more people than the couple in its centre.

[On a tangential note: when I googled lasagne in television shows I got great amusement from this great headline about a local underworld crime drama called Underbelly: Underbelly layered like a cheesy lasagne.]

Recipe notes:
The lasagne I made last week was based on a BBC Fennel and Tomato Lasagne.  I added lentils, forgot the balsamic vinegar, substituted a vegan cheese sauce (based on this one) for the cream and parmesan, and I scattered mine with seeds.  My lasagne is a very distant relative from the original.  If I could be so bold, I might even claim it to be superior, albeit less tomatoey.

Regular readers might not be surprised to hear that the recipe suggested roasting the fennel for 40 minutes and I took 2 hours.  At that point the fennel could have been melt soft and falling apart but I was ready to move on.  (Curse you oven who will never burn a thing!)  Fortunately I made it on a night E was home late.  By the time he got home at around 9.45pm, I was just finishing my dinner.

On the first night the lasagne was a tad rich for me.  (There was a jar of macadamia butter in there that I had bought on a whim.  Other nut butters would be fine too.)  E found it had too much fennel for him.   The second night I served it with a hasty salad of rocket, grated carrot and red capsicum, dressed with hummus, lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning.  It did such wonders for the lasagne that, unusually for me, I have recommended a side dish in the recipe.  The last night I served it with green beans, carrot, red pepper and asparagus with a balsamic vinegar and lemon juice dressing.  By then I was in love with the lasagne and sad to part.

Random notes:
Whenever I finish reading a book I find I can't just start another.  Last week I finished reading The Convent by Maureen McCarthy.  It was a really good read though not quite as impressive as my previous read The Time Traveller's Wife.  Incidentally, I bought The Convent to read on my trip to Scotland last year but let it was my sister when we stopped over in Ireland.  My mother brought it home when she was in Ireland earlier this year and I finally read it.

Rather than diving into another book, I like to have some time out and read shorter articles.  It is often my time to catch up with newspaper articles such as these recent gems on Alienation, Spoilt Kids and Loneliness.  Then I feel depressed enough to turn to fiction again.

I finished reading my book a few nights back and found myself perusing a BBC Good Food Vegetarian collection for Summer 2013.  It has so many recipes I want to me.  The fennel and tomato lasagne recipe sounded interested but too full of cream.  It seemed a perfect recipe to veganise.

I am sending this lasagne to Ricki Heller's Wellness Weekends.  And if this post puts you in the mood for pasta, may I gently remind you that I am hosting Pasta Please this month with long pasta as the theme.  Please go to my Pasta Please post for more information on how to participate by 28 September.

More pasta bakes from Green Gourmet Giraffe:

Vegan Fennel and Tomato Lasagne
Inspired by BBC Good Food
serves 6

Fennel layer:
2 fennel bulbs, sliced (about 0.5cm)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp French lavender salt
1 and 1/2 cup soy milk, or as required
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
225g jar of macadamia butter*
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
juice of 1/2 a medium lemon
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp seas salt, or to taste

Tomato and lentil layer:
900g truss tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
400g tin of brown lentils, rinsed and drained*
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I didn't use but might cut through creaminess)
sea salt and black pepper

To assemble:
250g dried lasagne sheets (I used wholemeal)
1-2 tbsp sesame seeds
1-2 tsp poppy seeds
 salad or vegetables, to serve

*You could also grind whole macadamias with soy milk before adding to the fennel, and cook your own lentils if you wish.

Roast fennel in olive oil and French lavender salt for 30 minutes at 180 C. Add 1/2 cup soy milk and garlic and roast a further 30 minutes. Mine was not yet soft enough so I roasted mine another 1 hour in the white wine - however my oven is slow so others might need less liquid and less time. Remove from oven and stir in remaining 1 cup of milk, macadamia butter, nutritional yeast flakes, lemon juice, wholegrain mustard, and salt. Check flavours and adjust as necessary.

Roast tomatoes whole in olive oil and a good pinch of salt for about 30 minutes or until soft and bursting out of their skins. Remove skins and stalks. Use a fork to mash up tomatoes and mix in lentils and seasoning to taste.

 Smear a bit of tomato sauce along the bottom of a rectangular lasagne dish.  Layer lasagne sheets, 1/2 tomato and lentil sauce, lasagne sheets, 1/2 fennel, lasagne sheets, 1/2 tomato and lentil sauce, lasagne sheets, 1/2 fennel.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and poppy seeds.  Bake for 45 minutes at 200 C or until top is golden brown and lasagne sheets are soft when a knife is poked into the middle of the lasagne.  Serve with salad or vegetables.

On the Stereo:
Here Till Here Is There - An Introduction to The Incredible String Band 

This post is part of Vegan Month of Food September 2013.  This year for Vegan MoFo I am cooking recipes inspired by favourite tv shows - and veering off topic occasionally.  Go to my Vegan MoFo list for more of my Vegan MoFo posts.  


  1. Hehe I love it when food and television collides, they're two of my favourite things in the world :D

  2. Mmmmm yes please Johanna. It's getting cooler here now (just had to put the heating on). So this is the perfect dish.

  3. I think I would eat this lasagna everyday. This looks great!

  4. A whole jar of macadamia nut butter! Wow this must be rich! I love French puy lentils simply cooked with fennel and carrot so I know I'd enjoy this dish.

  5. You better have a SeaChange post coming up. I'll never forgive yo if you don't.

  6. What a great twist on lasagne - and a completely novel idea (to me at least) for fennel. However, I am ashamed to admit I have never heard of this show!

    1. @Kari - it was promoted heavily on the ABC in Melbourne but maybe it was bigger here because it was set in Melbourne.

  7. So many of my favorite flavors all in one...macadamia nuts and fennel and lentils and seedful deliciousness! Thank you for the recipe! :)

  8. This ladagna sounds delicious , and I do like rich in cold weather. I never watched Time of Our Lives as it clashed with A Place to Call Home.

    1. @cakelaw - I would have liked to watch A Place to Call Home but it clashed with the ABC shows (and I can't stand the commercials)

  9. We have been enjoying this show too and Claudia Karvan has always been a favourite of ours (agree that it was difficult to warm to her role in this show). Lasagne was a great tie-in for your theme. I'm not sure how I feel about fennel as I haven't cooked with it much and it hasn't been terribly successful.

    1. @mel - I was worried the fennel wasn't cooked well enough but with the creamy tasty sauce it was fine - E found it too heavy on the fennel the first night when eating the lasagne by itself but fine when he had lots of vegies on the side

  10. We love that show too! I must have missed the lasagne (maybe cos I don't like it?) I can only remember her bringing spag bol for kids dinner. Although I was trying to work out what she made for the parents in law that made her the best cook in the family?

    1. @kate - I just noticed her bringing lasagne for a cousins dinner towards the end of the series when I was thinking about the vegan mofo theme - she was an odd character because she was a stay at home mum and so involved in her kid's life but you never saw her get cleaning or cooking help and yet it didn't really seem her thing!


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