I particularly enjoy fennel but I hardly ever seem to use it and I was thinking that it would be perfect to pull some out for a special occasion like for Valentines day. Fennel bulbs have the flavour of star anise or black licorice that is fairly strong when raw but it mellows out really nicely when cooked. I had recently come across an interesting way of using some fennel, in a fennel gratin , on Simply Recipes and I simply could not resist the idea of covering some licorice-y fennel with cheese and baking it until it gets all bubbly and melted. Normally a gratin has a cheese sauce that starts with a bechamel sauce or a cream based sauce and I liked the fact that this recipe takes a pass on both of them and gets right to the cheese! Basically the fennel is blanched, placed in a baking pan, covered in mozzarella, topped with a parmesan bread crumb crust and baked. Despite being so simple this fennel gratin is quite amazing! The hint of the black licorice flavour remaining in the baked fennel pairs fantastically well with the savoury melted cheese and the crispy golden brown bread crumb topping adds a pleasant textural contrast.
Fennel baked in cheese with a golden brown crunchy bread crumb crust.
- 2 pounds fennel bulbs (about 3-4 bulbs), fronds and stems removed and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
- 1 tablespoon oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (or regular bread crumbs)
- 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano (parmesan), grated
- 2 teaspoons thyme, chopped
- 1 tablespoon oil
- Boil the fennel in water until tender, about 5-6 minutes and drain.
- Toss the fennel in the olive oil along with the salt and pepper and place it into a baking dish.
- Sprinkle on the mozzarella.
- Mix the bread crumbs, parmesan, thyme and oil and sprinkle on top.
- Bake in a preheated 375F/190C oven, covered for 20 minutes, remove the cover and bake until the cheese is melted and golden brown, about 10 minutes.