Fennel. It’s the often ignored or misunderstood vegetable with the subtle anise flavor. It is readily available throughout markets in Europe but seems to be more difficult to find in the U.S. People seem to either love it, hate it, or have never tried it. I fall into the first category and am always on the lookout for new ways to use the crunchy vegetable. If you want to introduce fennel to the uninitiated, try this creamy gratin dish adapted from Fine Cooking magazine. Roasting the fennel first makes it mild and sweet and any vegetable that is covered in cream and bread crumbs that baked converts even the most anti-vegetable person into a fan.
Try this as a side dish to accompany grilled rib eye steaks with a compound bacon blue cheese butter. Yum!
FENNEL AU GRATIN
3 tablespoons butter
4 medium-sized fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored, and sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch pieces
1/4 cup finely chopped fennel fronds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups panko crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 cup heavy cream
Salt & pepper to taste
- Preheat an oven to 425 degree. Lightly coat a rimmed 9 x 13 inch casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside.
- On a large rimmed baking sheet, combine the fennel with 2 tablespoons of the oil, the vinegar, salt and pepper. Spread into a single layer and roast in the oven until golden brown, for approximately 30 minutes. Stir the mixture once or twice during the baking time.
- After the fennel has roasted, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Spread the fennel evenly along the bottom of the prepared casserole dish.
- In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 8-10 minutes.
- Add the sherry to the skillet and scrape up any browned bits that are stuck on the bottom of the pan.
- Cook until the liquid has evaporated then stir in the heavy cream and 2 tablespoons of fennel fronds. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat then simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove the bay leaves from the pan and pour the onion and cream mixture over the top of the fennel.
- Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small bowl in the microwave. Add the panko crumbs, grated parmesan cheese, and remaining fennel fronds. Toss gently to combine.
- Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the top of the fennel, onions, and cream.
- Bake, uncovered, in the oven until the fennel is tender and the panko crumbs have browned, approximately 30 minutes.
- Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.