We were invited to a very elegant Christmas dinner this weekend. We had a wonderful time. Their home is to die for, beautifully decorated. They served one of the most delicious side dishes I have ever eaten, a fennel gratin. It was one of those OMG moments! Fennel has a strong licorice flavor raw, but once it’s cooked, it completely transforms the flavor. Anyway, here is what I think was served. This is a must try.
Fennel with Béchamel Sauce & Parmesan Cheese
6 whole Bulbs Fennel
½ cups Grated Parmesan Cheese
2 Tbs Butter
4 Tbs Butter
¼ cups Flour
2 cups Milk
Salt & Pepper
1 dash Nutmeg
To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Once it has completely melted and is bubbling, add the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon. Cook for a minute or two until the flour just begins to take on some color. Slowly start adding the milk, whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming. Continue to simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, stirring often. Season with a pinch of salt, white pepper and nutmeg.
Wash the fennel. Strip away the outer layer of leaves if they’re tough, then slice the bulbs into thin wedges about 1/2 inch thick. Use a sharp knife to cut out core pieces. Boil the sliced fennel for about 7 minutes in salted water, or until just tender when pierced with a fork. Drain. Preheat your oven to 400 F.
Butter an oven-proof casserole dish, and transfer fennel to the dish. Pour the béchamel sauce over the fennel, and then sprinkle with the grated cheese. Dot the top with the remaining butter and bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.