Fennel is a crunchy, slightly anise-flavored vegetable. Seeds from fennel often give italian sausages their licorice-y flavor and have traditionally been used to make absinthe. The bulb of the fennel plant (the white round part at the base) has a fainter anise flavor than the seeds so it may suit your palate even if you don’t like licorice. It is best enjoyed from fall through spring.
The cold winter weather brings to mind hearty baked dishes so we recently tried using fennel in a standard cauliflower au gratin. The fennel offers a subtle additional dimension to the dish. Enjoy!
1/4 cup butter
1 head cauliflower, cut into individual florets
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 cup chopped fronds from the fennel bulb
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded Comte cheese (ask at the cheese counter for a similar cheese to subsititute!)
2/3 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated aged Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. While oven is preheating, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the cauliflower in the buttered skillet for approximately 4 minutes. Add sliced fennel and saute an additional 4 or 5 minutes. You want the fennel to be slightly tender. Remove from heat. Sprinkle cauliflower and fennel with flour, salt and nutmeg. Toss in the fennel fronds and mix. Place mixture into a 2 quart glass baking dish (8×8 works). Pour cream over fennel/cauliflower mixture and sprinkle with breadcrumbs, gruyere and parmesan. Bake at 450 for 20 minutes or until the top is brown and crispy.