Fresh fennel and fennel seeds with their distinctive anise flavor are used in recipes all over the world and regularly crop up in Italian (sausages), French (absinthe), Middle Eastern, Asian and Indian cuisine, for instance.
Thinly-shaved, crisp, fresh fennel makes a wonderful addition to salads and goes well with orange segments – or try this gratin of fennel that’s baked with really good Parmesan, Mozzarella, a few breadcrumbs and black olives; aromatic, tender and satisfying.
This simple gratin has loads of flavor and makes a wonderful accompaniment to roast pork, lamb, beef, or pretty much anything else – and I’ll eat it on it’s own when I’m not in a carnivorous mood.
Either way, here’s a delicious and easy way to serve fennel.
GRATIN of FENNEL & BLACK OLIVES
(Serves 6 as a side dish)
Approx 3 lbs (1.25k) untrimmed weight of fennel (you’ll need a few fronds for the garnish)
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons of extra-v olive oil
2 oz (57g) of best quality Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan) cheese, grated
1/2 cup (120ml measure) of fresh breadcrumbs
½ cup (120ml measure) of pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
2 oz (57g) of full fat mozzarella cheese, shredded
Trim the fennel reserving some of the pretty fronds for a garnish (save the other bits and use them to flavor soups, etc). Quarter the fennel bulbs, then cut them into one inch (2.5cm) thick slices and trim off the woody core.
Preheat the oven to 375° (190C).
Brush a wide, shallow gratin dish with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil and drop the fennel slices in. Allow to boil for for 5 minutes or until the fennel is just tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Drain it completely in a strainer then transfer to a bowl and drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, mixing well to coat.
In a separate bowl, combine the grated parmesan, olives, breadcrumbs and a good grind of black pepper. Add half of this mixture to the fennel and toss everything well.
Arrange the fennel in the gratin dish in a single layer. Scatter the shredded mozzarella over the fennel, followed by the remaining parmesan/breadcrumb/olive mixture.
Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil over the top.
Cover the dish with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15-18 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the topping golden.
Allow it to rest for 5 minutes then scatter with a few fennel fronds before serving.