Looking back at recent posts I notice there are a lot of meat-centric ones. Though I do love cooking meat, curing it, making sausages, etc., I think the recent posts are due more to seasonality. It’s winter, we eat more braises and roasts than salads. That’s not to say vegetables disappear altogether from the table, so this week I decided to post about one we like accompanying our roasts: braised fennel gratin!
This is such a good winter dinner side dish and a nice change from typical roasted root vegetables and sautéed greens. Fennel has such a distinct taste and it’s not as heavy as potatoes so you get a little bit of fresh spark added to the meal. Of course, topping it with cheese and bread crumbs doesn’t make it lighter! But I think if you show a little restraint and don’t’ smother the fennel with cheese you end up with a nicely balanced gratin.
Now, fennel is one of those love-hate foods, mostly because of the strong licorice aroma and flavor when eaten raw. However, when you cook fennel, the flavor becomes much tamer and milder. I find it’s a great addition to roasted vegetables and can easily mix in with carrots, parsnips, and potatoes to add another layer of flavor.
This particular recipe comes from my mom’s recipe books, with a few minor tweaks of course. It’s a very straightforward dish, braise the fennel until tender then add some cheese and stick under your broiler. Doesn’t take very long either, about half an hour. Since the flavor does get muted in the cooking process, I decided to dust the cooked fennel with a little bit of fennel pollen before adding the cheese and broiling. Very nice, but not essential. Any bread crumbs will also do (or none), but I like to use Panko bread crumbs because they are really crunchy and stand up well to broiling and baking. They really retain their crispness.
You’ll also note I did use stock! Instead of my usual rant about how water is just as good, this one benefits greatly from using a good vegetable or chicken stock. It makes a very flavorful reduction to mix in with the cooked fennel before broiling the gratin. Really delicious!
- 2 lbs fennel, trimmed and cut lengthwise into wedges
- 3 Tbs olive oil
- Sea salt
- 2 C vegetable/chicken stock
- ½ C grated gruyere cheese
- Panko bread crumbs (optional)
- Fennel Pollen (optional)
In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.
Season fennel wedges with salt. Place fennel in pan and cover. Sweat the fennel for a few minutes, until it starts to brown.
Pour in the stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and replace cover. Cook until fennel is fork tender. Should be 15-20 minutes.
Pre-heat the broiler in your oven.
Remove fennel to plate (or gratin dish). Reduce liquid over medium-high heat to about 3 Tbs-full of thickened sauce.
Pour the sauce over the fennel in the gratin dish (or add the fennel back in to the pan and toss).
Dust the fennel with fennel pollen (optional).
Sprinkle the cheese on top. Lightly dust with bread crumbs.
Broil in oven under the broiler for 3 minutes, until the cheese starts to bubble and brown.