Fennel Gratin

Fennel Gratin

January has become one of my favorite seasons for cooking: fennel and leeks are ripe and ready for using. A good friend of mine, who keeps a great Tumblr called A Cook’s Look, recently posted to a recipe for Fennel Gratin with Pecorino and Lemon that looked delicious (and was apparently so tasty she baked it ate it before she could snap a picture of her own to post!).

The only gratin I had previously been familiar with was potatoes au gratin (it’s Rob’s French cousin’s signature dish and it always disappears at family get-togethers). Curious what “au gratin” meant, I looked it up. The answer:  something covered with bread crumbs or grated cheese and browned, often under a broiler. (Gratin, it turns out, is the bread crumbs and/or grated cheese topping that is then browned.)

Fennel bulbs on sale at San Francisco's Ferry Building farmers' market

Last week, I picked up five fennel bulbs at the farmer’s market and went to work. Unfortunately, my stirring was far less than frequent and I burned quite a bit of the garlic-onion-fennel mix I was sautéing and didn’t realize I until it was too late that I should have transferred the vegetables to a new pan before I added the chicken broth. What resulted was the burned bit lifting off the bottom and working their way into the mix. I finished the dish and it was okay, though very brown and too salty so I was determined to cook it again—and with a few of my own twists—before I posted. The new dish is simply Fennel Gratin (and the full recipe is at the bottom of this post).

Fennel Gratin take one, not so terrible but not so great

So here it is, fennel take two. For the first go I cut the oil needed for sautéing to three tablespoons rather than five but that—combined with my infrequent stirring—caused the burning so I upped it to four generous tablespoons. I also changed the instructions from “stir frequently” to “stir very frequently” (I stirred near constantly to much better results than the first attempt).

Two of the four fennel bulbs, ready for chopping

Fennel, onion, and garlic ready for sauteing

Herbs to be added to the fennel and onion

The fennel and onions with herbs after attentive sauteing

The other major changes were alterations in the panko topping. The original recipe calls for three tablespoons of butter that the panko is then stirring into to brown the panko. This seemed pretty unnecessary to me so on trial two, I sprayed the pan with an oil non-stick cooking spray, added the panko, then sprayed the panko with the oil spray. This worked perfectly and is a healthier alternative. Finally, instead of one cup of Pecorino Romano cheese, I reduced the requirement to ½ cup Pecorino and added a ½ cup of Fontina, which I had leftover.

Ingredients for the gratin (aka bread crumb and cheese topping)

Browning the panko

Second time was clearly a charm because this time it was so delicious I also wanted to devour it before taking a picture. It was fresh and crunchy and completely different than the first attempt.  And I was able to snap a few photos.

Baked Fennel Gratin, hot out of the oven

Mmmm... much more tasty

Fennel Gratin

(adapted from Bon Appetite‘s Fennel Gratin with Pecorino and Lemon)

Ingredients

Fennel and Onion

4 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 onion, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices

4-5 large fennel bulbs, cored and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices

½ cup low-salt chicken broth2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt (1 teaspoon if using a regular chicken broth and not low-salt)

½ teaspoon black pepper

Topping

Oil spray (non-stick cooking spray)

½ cup panko

½ cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

½ cup Fontina cheese, grates

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

Method

Lightly oil a shallow 2-quart glass or ceramic baking dish. Heath 4 tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add garlic and onion; sauté until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add fennel; increase heat to medium and sauté until fennel is slightly softened, stirring very frequently, about 18 minutes. Add broth, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the broth is absorbed, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer to the baking dish. (This can be made a day in advance. Let stand at room temperature one hour before baking.)

Spray large skillet with oil spray (non-stick cooking spray) and heat over medium heat. Add panko and spray panko with oil spray (non-stick cooking spray). Stir, paying close attention as the panko will brown all of a sudden. Continue stirring until all a golden brown. Transfer to a plate and let cool then stir in both cheeses, parsley, and lemon peel. (This can be made a day in advance.)

Preheat oven to 425F. Sprinkle panko mixture over the fennel-and-onion mix. Bake until the gratin is heated through and the topping is deep golden, about 20 minutes. Serve warm and enjoy.

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