…don’t even ask…
Fennel gratin / Finocchi gratinati
Salmon can count himself lucky that Trota didn’t plug him in right there and then. But after this initial setback and an enlightening return to the shops, it was mission accomplished and the Rowes could get on with this star turn. This gratin will go very well as a side dish for pan-fried fish of your choice: simple and flavourful.
You are going to need 4 medium fennel bulbs (free range, ideally), 75g unsalted butter, ½tsp grated nutmeg, 4tbsp dried breadcrumbs, 4tbsp freshly grated parmesan.
Incidentally, there are many interpretations of this classic dish; the Rowes chose to follow Carluccio and Contaldo (Two Greedy Italians, 2012).
Breadcrumbs first: a most useful thing to have in any kitchen – cartoon or conventional; let some stale bread dry out then chop it and whizz in the food processor. Store in an airtight container ready for use. If you’ve none to hand, just put some small chunks of bread on a tray and dry in the oven at 120°/gas ½ for an hour, then whizz.
Now the fennel (don’t worry if you couldn’t find free range, neither could Salmon): remove the excess stalks and any fronds, wash and cut into halves. Gently boil them in a pan of lightly salted water for 20min or so, until they start to soften. Drain and cool slightly. Meanwhile, get on with the rest of the prep.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°/gas 4 and grease an ovenproof dish (about15x20cm) with 15g of the butter. In a bowl mix the breadcrumbs, parmesan and nutmeg and set aside ready for sprinkling.
Slice the cooled fennel 1cm thick and arrange neatly in the baking dish (best slices on top). Sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture and dot with the remaining butter.
Bake for 15min or so, until the breadcrumbs start to brown and become crisp. Pan-fry the fish of your choice. By the time the fennel is baked, you are ready to serve. Voilà.
It’s not often that fish plays second fiddle to a side dish, but this is one such occasion. Fennel bulb is a star performer, the Rowes will tell you – for once in absolute agreement.