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Broiled Fennel Recipe - Finocchi Gratinati

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Broiled Fennel, or Finocchi Gratinati: Simple sautéed fennel smothered with béchamel sauce and slipped into the oven (or run under a broiler) is a standard Italian recipe; in addition to working well as a side dish, it is a pleasing winter first course dish. To serve 4 you'll need:

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 4 servings broiled fennel

Ingredients:

  • 1 2/3 pounds (750 g) fennel bulbs (6 to 8, depending upon their size)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano (or more if you want; Caròla Francesconi suggests a heaping cup)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup béchamel sauce
  • Salt
  • A dab of butter for the dish

Preparation:

Wash the fennel, strip away the outer layer of leaves if they're tough, slice the bulbs into thin wedges, and boil them for 10 minutes in salted water. Drain them well and sauté them in the butter, adding the milk a few tablespoons at a time, and once you have added it all simmer the pot for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the béchamel sauce and preheat your oven to 400 f (200 C). Butter an oven-proof dish, and when the fennel is done simmering transfer it to the dish. Dust the fennel with the grated cheese, pour the béchamel sauce over it, and bake the fennel for 15 minutes, or until it is lightly browned. Serve.

Variations:

Like all simple things this invites them. Here's a more elaborate Bolognese version, made with mortadella, which will work well as a side dish. To serve 4:
  • 4 large fennel bulbs
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 32 thin slices of mortadella (sliced from a 3-inch diameter mortadella)
  • 1/2 cup béchamel sauce
  • An ounce (25 g) minced mortadella
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmigiano
  • 1/4 cup grated breadcrumbs
  • A few dabs of unsalted butter
Wash the fennel bulbs and cut them into eighths, then boil them until fork tender and sauté them in the butter for a few minutes. Let them cool, wrap each wedge in a slice of mortadella, and set the slices in a buttered ovenproof pan. In the meantime preheat your oven to 360 f (180 C). Pour the béchamel sauce over the fennel wedges, sprinkle the minced mortadella and Parmigiano over them, dot with a little butter, and brown all in the oven.

As another variation, substitute the béchamel sauce with a good dusting of breadcrumbs, dotting everything with a little unsalted butter. Then season to taste with salt and pepper, and perhaps parsley.

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