Potato and fennel au gratin

Posted in Comfort Foods, Savory, Side Dish, Vegetable, What The? Food, Winter on Jan 11, 2010

We’re on a roll with the What The? Foods this week. In fact, this is one of those things I have browsed past in the produce aisle many a time, and have never been curious enough to toss in the cart. Behold – fennel:

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Anyway, you know what they say about curiosity and the cat, right?

068 That’s Kimo inviting herself to dinner. And you know what? She didn’t die from eating a bite of our potato and fennel au gratin. How did The Boy fare?

Let’s do this thing, shall we?

In this corner, we have:

  • the fennel (God help us)
  • three russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • two tablespoons of butter
  • three tablespoons of all-purpose flour
  • cayenne pepper (a sprink or two)
  • sea salt (because we are fancy)
  • panko bread crumbs (again, FANCY)
  • parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup whole milk
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    Aaaand we’re off.  First up, I made the sauce for the au gratin part.

    I melted the butter in the not-a-wok, removed it from the heat for a minute, and added the three tablespoons of flour (or maybe more, more on that in a minute,) salt and cayenne pepper.  I was going for a béchamel type sauce, except I couldn’t remember what the name was, and kept picturing Zooey Deschanel which is close, but no cigar, if you know what I mean.

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    Then I whisked that shizzle until it was smooth.

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    Then, somehow balancing both the camera and the measuring cup of milk, I snapped a photo of me adding one cup of whole milk in a thin steady stream while whisking over medium heat.

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    The directions in the cookbook I was following noted that I should then simmer and stir for about 10 minutes, until the sauce coated the back of a spoon. Here it is five seconds after adding the milk and this stuff is already coating the back of a spoon, and possibly able to clog a drain.

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    I learned from my Caldo Verde thickness disaster and splashed in another 1/2 cup of milk. It was still thick, but it was at least partially fluid. I turned off the heat and let it be while I attacked the veggies.

    The fennel bulbs turned out to be quite pretty when sliced. I also diced up the stalks and minced up the fluffy green parts, because that’s how I roll.

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    Then, into a glass 9×13″ pan with the sliced potatoes:

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    And then I dumped on the Zooey sauce:

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    Finally, I tossed on some parmesan and panko bread crumbs, just for insurance.

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    All that went into a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes. It smelled great when it came out!

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    So, the verdict? No one died from eating it, but no one was in love with the flavor of the fennel, or really, the entire dish. It was edible, but just sort of blah. I guess if I would have had the fresh nutmeg for the Zooey, that would have added another depth to the dish, or if I’d used a cheese with more personality, or something, but basically, I took an unfamiliar food and made it beige. How unrewarding!

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    The steak was really good, though.

    069 The Boy ate about half his portion, and a few bites of watermelon as well, for a little bonus. He said that the potatoes were boring and he couldn’t tell the fennel from the potatoes. I don’t know how to rank this one. I guess we’ll call it a partial success, since he did choke some of it down, but I think this dish was able to impart a larger lesson here. BEIGE = BORING.

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    1 to “Potato and fennel au gratin”


    1. buffi says:

      Never been a big fennel fan. I really fail to see what the big deal is. I lean toward rosemary or basil when seasoning. Also, garlic always, always helps almost any dish. But I’ll never, ever be able to think about bechemel sauce again w/o thinking of you. (Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)

      I have a great scalloped potato recipe if you ever want one. When I don’t use the box that is…



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