Hands down, one of our most favorite side dishes ever! American chef and cookbook author David Tanis‘ homey but sophisticated Cheesy and Creamy Fennel Gratin casserole, incorporates fresh mozzarella, fennel seed, garlic, crushed red pepper and rosemary, plus a hearty glug of olive oil to help the flavors meld in the oven.
To avoid stringy and tough cooked fennel, David explains in his latest book, “David Tanis Market Cooking,” to blanch the fennel for a few minutes, drain, then run under cold water, a process that just barely tenderizes the fennel slices. The result, after baking, strikes the ideal balance between toothsome bite and jammy caramelized onion.
Since many supermarket mozzarellas lack the creaminess of harder-to-find fresh, Milk Street (where we found this recipe) opts for a blend of shredded fontina and provolone. And mixing Parmesan into panko breadcrumbs creates a solid crust that contrasts with the tender fennel beneath. Finally, a sprinkle of fresh parsley adds a pop of color and grassy notes to balance the cheese. This simple combination elevates the dish into something much more than the sum of its parts, and was a perfect compliment to our rack of lamb entrée.
Important: Don’t use a baking dish or pan that is not broiler safe. After baking, the gratin spends a couple minutes under the broiler to brown the topping, so be sure the vessel can withstand the intense heat.
4 medium fennel bulbs (about 2½ lbs. total), halved lengthwise, cored and sliced about ¼ inch thick
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 1/2 oz. Parmesan cheese, finely grated (¾ cup)
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
4 oz. fontina cheese, shredded (1 cup)
4 oz. provolone cheese, shredded (1 cup)
1/3 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Heat the oven to 450°F with a rack in the upper-middle position.
In a large pot, bring 2 quarts water to a boil. Add the fennel and 1 tablespoon salt, then cook for 3 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under running cold water until cool to the touch. Shake the colander to remove as much water as possible, then lay the slices out on a kitchen towel and thoroughly pat them dry.
In a 9-by-13-inch broiler-safe baking dish, toss together the fennel, oil, rosemary, fennel seeds, pepper flakes and ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper; distribute in an even layer.
Roast until beginning to brown and a skewer inserted into the fennel meets no resistance, 25 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the Parmesan, panko and garlic.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and turn on the broiler. Evenly distribute the fontina and provolone over the top of the fennel, then sprinkle on the Parmesan-panko mixture.
Broil until the top is nicely browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.
Such a humble dish, but once you taste it, it rises to superstar status! Satisfying and economical, it uses a handful of ordinary ingredients. Once this Mediterranean-inspired dish is cooked up, you can’t get enough of it—and with every bite, it seems to get better.
We have been avid fans of chef/author Molly Stevens for decades, and this recipe came from our most recent cookbook addition “All About Dinner” which was released in 2019. It was gifted this past Christmas to The Hubs from one of the adult children, along with three other cookbooks—yes, we are a bit obsessed.
Our original plan was to soak dried white beans overnight. But the morning of, we realized we forgot to do that and therefore just used canned cannellinis which have a silky texture and nutty flavor. Opting for canned saves a step and some time, but if you prefer to soak beans by all means go ahead.
Our topping was not browning in the oven, so we put the gratin under the broiler. If you do the same, keep a close eyeball on it, because it browns very quickly under the intense heat. The next time we make this (which I hope is soon), we plan to drizzle olive oil with the bread crumbs and grated cheese before topping the gratin with it. This should help the browning process.
Do Ahead: The gratin can be prepared through Step 4 up to 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bake for an additional 20 minutes or so before serving.
8 oz. fresh sweet Italian sausage, casings removed if using links
1 medium yellow onion (about 7 oz.), coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
Pinch of mellow red pepper flakes, such as Aleppo, or crushed red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
2 15-oz. cans white beans, rinsed and drained
One 14½-oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup fresh bread crumbs or panko crumbs
2 oz. Parmesan, finely grated (about 1 cup)
Hot sauce such as Cholula or Tabasco for serving, optional
Heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the upper third. Lightly oil a medium gratin dish, shallow baking dish, or ovenproof skillet.
Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and use a spoon or metal spatula to flatten it into large chunks. (You get better browning on large flat chunks than crumbles.) Then cook, flipping it occasionally, until browned and cooked through, 7 to 10 minutes. Break the sausage into bite-size pieces and transfer it to a large bowl and cover to keep warm, leaving the fat and drippings behind in the pan.
Return the skillet to medium heat, add the onion, season with a pinch of salt, and cook until softened and lightly colored, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and a few good grinds of black pepper and cook, stirring, until just fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the aromatics to the bowl with the sausage.
Add the beans, tomatoes, with their juice, and parsley to the bowl with the other ingredients. Stir gently to combine without smashing the beans, then add a generous pour of olive oil (about 2 tablespoons), and season boldly with salt and pepper. Taste, being sure to taste both the aromatics and a bean, and correct the seasoning as needed. Pour the mixture into the prepared gratin dish and use the back of a spoon to spread into an even layer.
Sprinkle the top of the beans with the bread crumbs and cheese. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bake, uncovered, until heated through and beginning to brown on top, 30 to 40 minutes. If the top is not as brown and crisp looking as you like, slide the gratin under the broiler for a few minutes before serving.