Fennel is a delicious vegetable that’s overlooked by most people. Akin to celery in some ways, it’s got a crunchy texture and light yet complex flavour that makes my fennel recipe both a satisfying standalone vegetarian dish and a great side dish for plainly grilled or fried fish, pork and chicken.
For this fennel au gratin recipe, to make it more diet-conscious I’ve used cornflour to thicken the sauce and just a light amount of parmesan to flavour, but you can make a light bechamel and add cheddar, gruyere or another cheese instead if you prefer.
INGREDIENTS (for 2)
2 Fennel bulbs
100ml olive or rapeseed oil
1 dessertspoon (10g) cornflour
250ml semi-skimmed milk
100ml white wine (optional)
25g grated parmesan or grana padano cheese
½ vegetable stock cube (or ½ tsp salt)
Small bunch coriander (or 1 dessertspoon frozen)
12 black olives (or equivalent quantity of sliced black olives)
Heat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 5.
Remove any outside leaves from the fennel bulbs that show brown colour or damage, trim the tops of the stalks, and cut the fennel bulbs into quarters.
Put the fennel into a saucepan and add enough water just to cover, and half a teaspoon of salt. Bring to the boil and then turn off the heat immediately. Leave to stand in the water for 2 minutes, and then remove the fennel and arrange in an ovenproof dish that just fits them in a single layer. Drain the water that the fennel was blanched in into a jug and put aside.
Slowly pour the oil over the fennel quarters and toss them to make sure that they are covered on all sides. Use a little more oil if necessary. Put the dish into the oven and roast for 20 minutes
To make the sauce, first put 150ml of the water drained from the fennel into the saucepan together with the wine, if using, and boil to reduce it by half – this removes the alcohol from the wine and concentrates the flavour. Remove from the heat.
Put the cornflour into a jug and add a small amount of the milk, stir until a smooth cream, then add the rest of the milk, stirring. Add the milk mixture to the wine and return the pan to the heat. Bring to a gentle simmer, then add the grated cheese and crumble in the half stock cube. Stir to combine, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. A small amount of cayenne pepper works really well!
Black olives are a great flavour match for fennel. If using whole olives, cut them into halves or thirds.
Remove the dish from the oven, scatter the sliced olives over the fennel, and then pour the sauce over that. You can sprinkle with panko crumbs or other breadcrumbs if you have them, but it’s not essential.
Return the dish to the oven, turn up the heat to 220C/Gas 7 and cook for 10 minutes.
What do you think? I welcome comments and ideas, either in the comment box below or get in touch with me via one of the links on my contact page.
The fennel for this recipe came in an organic vegetable box from ShareFresh