Fennel Gratin

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Fennel GratinWhen fennel is cooked, it takes on a mild, delicate flavor that’s distinct from the flavor of raw fennel. And because fennel is available year-round, this is a great recipe to have on hand. Use this cheesy gratin base with other vegetables, too, such as potatoes or Belgian endive.
This is a rich, comforting dish that pairs well with something simple and rustic, like Fig and Red Wine–Braised Lamb Shanks. It’s also an elegant dish to prepare and serve family-style in a pretty casserole or portioned into individual gratin dishes. If your fennel bulbs are large, plan on serving about a half bulb per person, and if they are small, plan on a whole bulb per person.

  • Yield: 6 to 8 Servings


  • 4 or 5 large fennel bulbs (each 3 to 4 inches), or 6 to 8 small fennel
  • bulbs (each 2 to 3 inches), with some fronds attached
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ¾ cup homemade stock or other high-quality stock
  • 2½ cup good white wine
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons garlic paste
  • 2½ cups whole milk
  • 3 ounces cave-aged Gruyère cheese, grated
  • teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¾ cup coarse bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon garlic paste
  • ½ teaspoon fennel pollen
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped fennel fronds (optional)
How to Make It
  1. MAKE THE FENNEL Chop 3 tablespoons of fennel fronds and set them aside for later use. If you’re using large fennel bulbs, cut them lengthwise into quarters; if you’re using small bulbs, cut them lengthwise in half. Leave the base fully attached in both instances. Turn the fennel pieces cut side up and season with the salt and pepper (this is a great time to practice the aerial salting method). Heat your largest sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and butter, and then working in batches to avoid overcrowding, add the fennel cut side down and sear until deep chestnut brown, 2 to 3 minutes. If the fennel is quartered, flip the pieces to sear the other cut surface for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the fennel to a large Dutch oven.
  2. Add the stock and wine to the Dutch oven, place over low heat, cover, and simmer until the fennel is fork-tender but not mushy, 20 to 25 minutes. If there is any liquid remaining in the pot, drain it off. Place the fennel in a 9 by 13-inch baking dish and set aside.
  3. MAKE THE CHEESE SAUCE In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Whisk for about 1 minute, then add the garlic paste. Whisk until the flour begins to take on a pale gold color, 2 to 3 minutes. At this point, you will have removed any raw flour taste from your sauce. You don’t want too much color, however, as the flour will taste bitter if it gets overly toasted. You want a shade between off-white and not quite beige when you stop whisking.
  4. Gradually whisk in the milk to avoid forming any lumps. Once all of the milk has been added, whisk vigorously until the sauce is completely smooth; turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer, whisking periodically to avoid scorching, until the sauce fully thickens, 10 to 12 minutes. Turn off the heat, whisk in the Gruyère, and season with the salt and pepper. The finished sauce should be very thick.
  5. MAKE THE BREAD CRUMB TOPPING In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the bread crumbs, garlic paste, fennel pollen, and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the bread crumbs are pale gold. Don’t allow them to take on too much color, as they will spend a few minutes in the oven on top of the gratin. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chopped fennel fronds.
  6. ASSEMBLE THE DISH Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the cheese sauce over the fennel (very gently reheat the sauce if it is cold), and then sprinkle with the Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses. Bake until bubbling and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. Remove the baking dish from the oven and scatter the topping in an even layer across the top. Continue to bake the gratin until it takes on a deep golden hue, about 5 minutes. If it needs more color, place the dish under the broiler (make sure it is broiler-proof) for 1 minute, watching it very carefully to ensure nothing burns. Serve immediately.

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