Saturday, August 11, 2007

Baked Fennel with Parmesan Cheese

About 5 years ago our friends Joan and Tom decided to rent an old villa in Tuscany for a week. In a little village called Bucine (pronounced BOO-shin-ay, which is contrary to normal Italian pronunciation). The place had come recommended to them by mutual friends, and was exceedingly inexpensive. Between them and us we invited other friends. We had 12 people on that trip. We actually rented the house again 2 years later too. About 2 weeks before our first departure all of the group gathered to talk logistics, timing, tour planning, and to share a delicious potluck Tuscan dinner. Joan brought this succulent fennel dish, which has become a regular on my menus ever since.

(photo from

Fennel is not an everyday vegetable. Lots of people profess to not like it because of its anise/licorice flavor. Indeed, it does have a little bit of that. And I'm not a licorice fan at all. But I like fennel raw or cooked. . . I love it raw, cut in small slivers, or shaved with a vegetable peeler. I can eat it like eating a stick of celery. But I also l-o-v-e it in this format too. When cooked, it's a different vegetable altogether First you remove the tops and nearly all the stems, cut each fennel bulb in either wedges or slices, simmer in water briefly, then bake with chicken broth, butter, parsley sage and Parmesan cheese on top. It becomes not quite soft, but sort of silky, but still with some substance to it. Italians love fennel and use it in many different ways. Obviously it's one of those vegetables that thrives in the Tuscan climate.

Joan said this recipe came from a cookbook she picked up when she and Tom lived in Rome for a few years when their daughters were young. The book is Five Brothers: A Year in Tuscan Cooking. It's available in used copies through Amazon for a ridiculously low price, in case you're interested. From what I read about it, Five Brothers is a brand of tomato sauce and other Italian canned products, and one criticism of the book was that the recipes called out the family's products too often. Another review simply said just substitute those ready-made products with your own. One nice aspect of this dish is that any leftovers are easily reheated in the microwave. DH and I made this last week. He schlepped stuff for me and I did most of the prep work on it from my little card table "kitchen" that I can reach. Even DH, who said some years ago that he didn't think he liked fennel, loves this preparation. You might like it too.

Baked Fennel with Parmigiano-Reggiano
Recipe from my friend Joan, from a cookbook called: Five Brothers: A Year of Tuscan Cooking
Servings: 8
6 whole fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons butter -- cut in pieces
1 tablespoon Italian parsley -- chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage -- divided
salt and ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese -- grated
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Cut off the tops, clean and quarter the fennel bulbs. Or, if the bulbs are irregularly shaped, they can be cut in wide, flat slices. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a splash of salt and cook the fennel quarters for 5 minutes only. Drain and pat dry.
3. Lightly oil a baking dish then layer half the fennel inside. Dot with butter, half the parsley, sage, salt and pepper. Top with remaining fennel and seasonings. Pour broth over fennel and sprinkle with the cheese. Cover the dish with foil or a lid and bake for 45 minutes. Remove lid/foil and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes until the cheese is golden brown. If you're in a hurry, increase the temperature to 400° and it may take less time to brown.
NOTES : The fennel's delicate anise flavor actually sweetens when cooked. It's a staple in the Italian vegetable repertoire.
Per Serving: 104 Calories; 5g Fat (38.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 238mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 1/2 Fat.
To view a printable recipe, click on title at top.

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