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Preheat oven to 350°F. In a very large skillet, cook sausage, fennel, onion and garlic over medium-high heat until meat is browned and vegetables are tender. Drain off fat. Add rice; cook and stir for 1 minute more.
Add artichokes, carrots, thyme and pepper to the sausage mixture in the pan. Stir in broth and wine (or additional broth). Bring to a boil. Transfer to a 2-1/2-quart casserole dish.
Bake, covered, for about 1 hour or until the rice is tender, stirring once.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine panko (or soft breadcrumbs), cheese, butter and lemon zest. Uncover casserole and top with the crumb mixture. Bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes more. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.