Fennel al Forno YUM!
Fennel is a love/hate thing. It's like cilantro, you either love it or hate it. There is no in between.
I love this funky looking bulb. I use it in Ina's potato gratin, and once fennel is baked, the strong anise flavor mellows (but I also love black liquorice).
Here you are making a finnochio (fennel translated to Italian) gratin.
Usually I would bake fennel in cream, but I loved the sound of this recipe using fresh mozzarella and bread crumbs instead.
The original recipe calls for 4 fennel bulbs, which would feed a lot, so I cut the recipe in half, using only 2 bulbs. I will print the original recipe, you can decide.
We loved this right out of the oven smothered on toasted panella bread. The perfect Sunday lunch.
Fennel al Forno (adapted from the New York Times):
4 medium fennel bulbs, topped, a few green fronds reserved
kosher salt and pepper
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more to oil the baking pan
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed or roughly powdered in a mortar or spice mill
3 garlic cloves
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary, plus 2 teaspoons rosemary leaves
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, (the kind packed in water), sliced or shredded
1/4 cup coarse dry homemade bread crumbs from an Italian or French loaf
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (about 1 1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, or a mixture of parsley and fennel fronds.
Heat oven to 375F degrees. Remove a thin layer of the fennel bulbs’ tough exterior with a vegetable peeler. Cut the fennel crosswise into half-inch-thick slices.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Boil the fennel for 1 minute, then put it in a bowl of cold water, drain and pat dry. Season with kosher salt and pepper. Lightly oil an oven-proof baking dish. Layer in the fennel to a depth of 1 1/2 inches (pushing down, if necessary).
In a small bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons olive oil, the fennel seed and the garlic, smashed to a paste with a little salt, the pepper flakes and the chopped rosemary.
Drizzle 2 tablespoons of this mixture over the fennel. Sprinkle with the rosemary leaves. Cover with a layer of sliced or shredded mozzarella, then sprinkle with bread crumbs. Drizzle the remaining oil mixture, then sprinkle with Parmesan. (The dish may be prepared to this point several hours before baking.)
Bake, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes, until nicely browned. Garnish with the chopped parsley or a mixture of the parsley and fennel fronds.
PS Thank you Leeann for the jar of fennel powder :)