Modified from Italy, The Beautiful Cookbook: Authentic Recipes from the Regions of Italy, by Lorenza de’Medici and Patrizia Passigli
I have this rather large cookbook, Italy, the Beautiful Cookbook, which is sized more appropriately for coffee table display than for actual cooking. For that reason, I haven’t really taken much advantage of the great Italian regional recipes. This cookbook, when opened, commands a full 14 x 21.5 inches of counter space. However it has well over 200 recipes accompanied by gorgeous photographs of not only the food, but the countryside of Italy, with descriptions of the culinary traditions of each region.
Fennel with Cheese Sauce fits the bill for a rich-tasting side dish to accompany a simple pan-seared beef tenderloin steak. This recipe (from the Emilia-Romagna region) is very simple and takes no time to put together, yet it has an elegant presentation and complexity of flavors from the spiciness of the fennel to the earthiness of the Gruyere cheese.
I modified the original recipe by sauteing the fennel in butter beforehand, instead of boiling it, and using a small amount of wine to deglaze the pan so that I didn’t leave behind any tasty bits.
Ingredients (serves 2-3 people):
- 3 fennel bulbs
- 2 tablespoons butter (preferably from grass-fed cows)
- ~1/4 cup white wine (I used Chardonnay)
- Kosher or sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
- Gruyere cheese, ~4 ounces, grated (I forgot to measure, so this is an approximate)
- grated nutmeg
- 1/4 cup half and half
Preheat oven to 425F. Butter Au Gratin dish or shallow baking dish.
Trim the fennel bulbs and discard the tough outer layers. Shave off the bottom of the root end, leaving the core intact. Cut the bulbs into wedges.
Melt butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Saute the fennel wedges until they are crisp tender and lightly browned. Arrange the fennel in the Au Gratin dish. Pour wine into the saute pan and scrape up the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, and allow to reduce slightly. Pour contents of pan over the fennel.
Season with salt and pepper, and cover with the Gruyere cheese. Lightly sprinkle nutmeg over the top (a little nutmeg goes a long way…), and pour the half and half into the dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until bubbly and browned and fennel is tender. Serve hot.
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