4-13: Fennel au Gratin

Fennel has been a challenge ever since we started receiving CSA boxes a year or two ago. I really never cooked with it before and even now, finding recipes to use with it (that I’ll eat) is difficult.

If you’ve never had fennel, it tastes like black licorice. You eat the bulb part, and usually cut off the stalks & feathery parts. I usually save those parts and put them in when I make chicken stock.

4-13 Fennel Au Gratin
We ended up with two very large fennel bulbs, and so I decided to make 4-13: Fennel au Gratin, because you can’t go wrong when you cover things in cheese.

We paired this with some English cheddar tortilla/gluten-free something-or-other chips as well as put it on top of some veggie patties–both were pretty good. It worked well as a dip–it might be too cheesy as a side dish, unless you added more fennel.

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I don’t believe my mom or I ever made this one in the past–like I said before, not a big fennel eater. Fennel au Gratin can be found in Book 1, Group 1 (Appetizers & Starters), Subgroup 4 (Potatoes & Vegetables).

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Ingredients. I only have two bulbs, while the recipe calls for three. An additional bulb would have balanced out the amount of cheese sauce it made–probably could have used it. Subbed in half-and-half for milk, everything else was pretty much legit.

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Chopped up fennel, courtesy of my sous chef (husband). He cut it kind of wonky, but it worked. You can see the recipe card itself in the background–while I still have the books I’ve been using the cards themselves. Keeps my laptop cleaner.

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Into the boiling water it goes. Remember not to dump the water after it’s done–I have a tendency to do that as a force of habit.

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Here’s some of the water I saved. I was making another recipe last night (7-2: Pork Chops with Tomatoes) and totally dumped the water when I was supposed to save it. It’s not the end of the world if you mess up and forget, but it does make a slight difference in your recipe.

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Cooked fennel waiting in the dish. I would use either a glass baking dish or a ceramic one like this. Metal pan would work, but doesn’t look as nice, and is harder to clean baked-on cheese out of.

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Making the roux (butter/flour base) for the cheese sauce. Roux took me a while to get good at–I used to burn it all the time. I’ve found that patience is the key–the butter has to get to the right consistency (melted/cooked, but not overbrowned/burned) and the flour has to be sprinkled in somewhat slowly–if you just dump it in there it tends to clump up. The nutty smell is the key–when you get the smell, it’s good to go.

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I combined my milk and cooking liquid into one container and mixed that in to the roux. Keeping everything moving is the key to not having it clump up–especially when you add in the cheese. I’ve messed up A LOT of cheese sauces that way.

Having an extra hand or two helps too. If nothing else, you can stir, pour, AND take pictures at the same time! 🙂

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Cheese sauce is poured in on top of the fennel. Mine covered the fennel pretty completely, but I was also short one bulb. If you used more fennel, it may look more full.

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Dish goes in the oven–toaster oven, that is. I like to use the toaster oven when it’s hot–keeps the kitchen from getting even hotter. I was also making something else at the time for a party (not a Simply Delicious recipe), so my big oven was occupied at the time.

Toaster ovens are awesome though. Best advice my business management professor in college ever gave me–invest in a good toaster oven. They are magic little hot metal boxes. Which apparently need a good cleaning, as I’m looking at mine. 🙁

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The final result. The toaster oven gave it a pretty good dark top! We ended up packing this up with a bit of aluminum on top and storing it in the fridge until the next day–we had that party to get to. 🙂

My advice for reheating this–do it slowly and in the oven. I let it go for about 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees in my toaster oven so that it could come back up slowly and not separate. I also stirred in some breadcrumbs. If you microwave cheese sauce, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Grade: A-

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