I have always been intrigued by the fennel bulbs at the super market ..well for one, how pretty it looked with the bright greens and whites and second, what flavour it gives out and what preparations would complement fennel. Its only after hoards of research that i learnt it was a main ingredient in those after dinner digestion thingies you get at Indian restaurants..a mouth freshener kinda thing. I still don't know what its actually called so id like to keep it at 'Mouth freshener.' I always thought it was jeera or something..yeah that's how clueless i am about ingredients and yet i continue to bedazzle myself with something or the other. I have the names of all the masala powders on the containers because it was not so long ago that i messed up masalas..yeah amchur for coriander powder..seriously..can anyone ever be so dumb?
Anyways, coming back to fennel...i did a few searches online and stumbled upon a potato gratin recipe. I incorporated fennel and some spinach into it and voila, I had my very own twisty bake which was pretty darn delicious. Accompany this creamy baked dish with some fried chicken and its a whole meal, serve with some garlic bread and its a starter or just gorge it all up as it is. I made some Pollo Al Ajillo (recipe shall follow) along with it..Yeah Spanish and French was kind of a conflict of flavours and cultures altogether, but who cares..i get to eat what i like :)
Although the flavour fennel unfolds is quite distinct, i feel its an acquired taste or better put, you either like it or you dint. I must say i liked it and would definitely be trying out more recipes with my new found herb/ vegetable.. or is it neither?
Fennel bulb- 1 large
Onion- 1 medium, thinly sliced
Baby spinach- 1 to 2 cups (as per your liking, really)
Garlic- 2 cloves, thinly sliced
Butter- 1 tbsp or more if you please
All purpose flour- 1 tbsp
Heavy cream- 3/4 cup
Baby potatoes- 4
Grated cheese- 1/3 cup (I used Cheddar)
Salt and pepper- as required
I was lost as to how to cut fennel bulbs and so i had to depend on a video (ok now you are convinced I'm a useless cook). Basically what you need to do is cut off the green stalks and reserve them for garnish, remove the dirty outer covering (if any), chop it in half, remove the central core if you don't need it and slice them thin. Keep aside
Clean the spinach leaves, drain and transfer them to a bowl and close with a lid. Cook in the microwave on high for about 2 minutes. Drain off the water and keep aside.
Also wash and clean the baby potatoes and slice them into rounds. Keep aside.
Pre-heat the oven to 200 C.
Heat a skillet and melt the butter. Add the onions and garlic and cook till soft and fragrant.
To this, add the spinach and about 3/4 th of the sliced fennel and sautee for a few minutes. Do not over cook as the flavour will be lost.
Stir in the flour, mix well and add the thick cream. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring to a simmer and add the grated cheese.
Pour into a casserole dish and layer the potato slices on top.
Place it in the pre-heated oven and after about 30 minutes, take the casserole out, sprinkle the left over fennel and if you want, some grated cheese and bake for another 30 minutes or till the potatoes are tender and top is crusty and bubbly.
Garnish with the green stalks and serve hot.
Notes: You can basically add anything to your gratin like mushrooms and cauli and non veg items like bacon and sausages as well.
I only had cheddar cheese at home and so used it. You can use goats cheese instead
Heavy cream can be substituted with whole milk and baby potatoes with Russet potatoes.
I made a mistake and sprinkled the fennel and cheese the first time itself, and so it kinda got a bit burnt. So make sure you put it only half way through..its just needs to partially soften.