Parmesan Fennel Gratin changed my mind about fennel!
Licorice has always been a flavor that I preferred to skip. I wouldn’t say that I hate it, but let’s just say I never liked. That means I have never been particularly fond of foods with licorice-like flavors, such as fennel. But the other day, I was watching Ina Garten, better known as the Barefoot Contessa, on the Food Network. She was making a Parmesan Fennel Gratin that looked fantastic, but I wasn’t thinking about trying it until she mentioned that the baking process eliminates most, if not all, of the licorice flavor. I love gratins, so I decided I would give this one a try.
Following Ina’s recipe, I cut the tops off of three bulbs of fennel. Then I sliced each bulb in half and removed most, but not all, of the core at the bottom of each bulb. Next, I sliced each half into 3-4 wedges. By leaving a little of the core, each wedge stayed intact.
I placed the fennel wedges in an oval baking dish that was just barely large enough for them to fit in a single layer. The next step was to add 1/2 a cup of chicken broth and 1/3 a cup of Chardonnay (any dry white wine will work). I sprinkled the fennel with salt and pepper and placed small pieces of butter on top (about 1 tablespoon total, but note Ina suggested 2 tablespoons). As Ina instructed, I covered the baking dish with aluminum foil and baked the fennel for about 45 minutes at 375 degrees F. While the fennel baked, I prepared the topping by combining 3 tablespoons of unsalted, melted butter, 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs, 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, the zest of 1 lemon, and about 1/2 teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper. I skipped the chopped parsley and the additional salt Ina’s recipe called for. I was out of parsley and didn’t see it as a required ingredient, but I would have included it had I had some on hand. However, that was not the case for the extra salt. I had already salted the fennel, the chicken broth had some salt even though it was low sodium, and parmesan cheese always adds to the salty flavor of a dish. I just thought more salt would be too much. (Later, I learned others had posted reviews of the original recipe on the Food Network site advising everyone to omit the extra salt.)
I took the fennel out of the oven and raised the oven temperature to 425 degrees F. After removing the aluminum foil, I sprinkled the topping evenly over the surface and then baked it uncovered for another 30 minutes. At that point—as you can see below—it was a beautiful golden brown.
Now it was time for the real test. Did it taste like licorice? To my surprise, very little of the licorice flavor was left! The soft, but definitely not too soft, texture of the baked fennel was yummy when combined with the crunchy and flavorful parmesan and breadcrumb topping. It was so good I ended up eating this side dish as my main course for dinner! I would have never believed I would enjoy licorice so much! My suggestion is to give it a try. Even if you don’t like licorice, you may be like me and like Parmesan Fennel Gratin.
For the Barefoot Contessa’s Recipe for Parmesan Fennel Gratin click here.
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