Fennel is an underappreciated vegetable in my opinion. Sliced and eaten raw, it has a great licorice taste and a fresh crunch that goes well in salads (like apple fennel slaw). When it’s roasted the flavor deepens and becomes richer and the fennel softens and tenderizes. Our fennel gratin has a delicious crust made with fresh breadcrumbs, thyme and walnuts.
Pretty much the entire plant from the fennel bulb to the frond like leaves, flowers and seeds can be eaten. The seeds especially are thought to help aid digestion. You’ll also find it in many herbal teas. (read more here)
I based my fennel gratin on this recipe from Bon Appetit magazine. A mandolin was used to slice my onion and fennel into thin slices that cooked quickly. I wish you could smell it…it will make your mouth water it’s so wonderful. The photos just don’t do it justice. You’ll be convinced once you try a bite, though!
I’ve reduced the overall amount of fat in the original recipe by omitting the olive oil and decreasing the amount of butter used to make the bread crumbs. There’s still plenty of richness from the cream, parmesan cheese and walnuts.
In my opinion the fresh breadcrumbs make this dish. I used day old bread with the crusts removed, torn into small pieces. A whirl in the food processor blends the butter, nuts, seasonings and breadcrumbs into a topping that becomes extra crispy when baked.
It was a very cold day when I made this flavorful dish. I enjoyed mine as a main course with a salad on the side. Rick added a leftover chicken breast to his plate to round out his meal.
Fennel complements salmon very well and since both the fennel gratin and the salmon can be baked, you’ll only have to heat the oven to prepare your meal.
- 3 or 4 small fennel bulbs around two pounds, sliced thinly on a mandolin if you have one
- 1 medium onion, sliced thinly
- 1 cup heavy or whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons thyme
- 3 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 large handful (about a cup) walnuts, roughly chopped
- 1½ cups day old bread cut torn into cubes
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C
- Mix the fennel, onions, cream, half the thyme, salt and pepper together in a 2 quart casserole.
- Bake for 20 - 30 minutes or until the fennel is tender. Thinner slices cook more quickly.
- While the fennel is in the oven, make the bread crumbs by pulsing the butter, fennel, walnuts, remaining thyme, salt, pepper and bread cubes in a food processor.
- Scatter the breadcrumbs over top the fennel and onions and return to the oven for another 15 - 20 minutes. The breadcrumbs should turn a delicious golden brown.