A member of the carrot family (though its bulbs grow above ground), anise-y tasting fennel is a popular ingredient in southern Italy. This easy gratin is a good accompaniment to roast meat or chicken.
- 3 large fennel bulbs
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use, plus extra for oiling a casserole dish
- 2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1/2 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
- Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup grated Grana Padano, Asiago, or Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided use
- 1/2 cup panko or Italian-style dried bread crumbs
Trim the tops off the fennel bulbs and remove any blemished outer leaves. Place the fennel tops in a tall glass of water (like a cut flower) and reserve. Trim the bottoms off the fennel bulbs, then slice each of the bulbs into eight wedges.
Oil a baking dish or casserole with olive oil and set aside.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, then the fennel. Sauté the fennel until it’s just beginning to color, stirring as needed, then add the shallots, garlic, and broth. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook the fennel until it’s tender-crisp and the broth has evaporated, about 20 minutes. Add the cream and half the cheese; stir to combine. Combine the remaining tablespoon of olive oil with the panko.
Heat the oven to 375°F. Tip the fennel mixture into the prepared baking dish. Top with the remaining cheese and the panko. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the top of the dish is lightly browned and the cream has thickened. In the meantime, chop some of the feathery green fennel fronds and sprinkle on the top of the dish before serving. (Reserve the remaining fennel fronds for another use.)
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish