I have a hard time deciding which I like more -- creamy potatoes (say, mashed or scalloped) or crispy, oven-roasted ones. So I set out to combine the best of both worlds. I braise the potatoes and fennel in half-and-half until they’re soft, tender, and well-seasoned, then pop them under the broiler with a showering of fresh herbs, cheese and orange zest until they get crispy and caramelized around the edges. It’s a nice dish for holiday entertaining because most of the work is done stove top, which is a blessing when you have one oven and a gazillion things to cook in it. The braised vegetables can be prepared in advance and broiled when you’re ready. It’s a simple dish that’s definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Served alongside roast chicken or turkey, it’s pretty hard to beat. - EmilyC —EmilyC
Test Kitchen Notes
EmilyC has created the perfect lovechild of creamy and crispy potato sides. You first braise potatoes and fennel in cream, then perk them up with olive oil, chopped herbs, orange zest and pecorino before broiling them for a spell. It's no more difficult than your average holiday potatoes and will -- quite frankly -- blow your guests' minds. Oh, and save that cream! You can drizzle it over roast chicken or cooked greens or fold it into mashed potatoes another day. - A&M —The Editors
3 yukon gold potatoes (about 1.5 pounds) – peeled and cut into irregular 1.5" to 2" chunks
2 fennel bulbs (about 1.5 pounds) – trimmed (with tough or bruised outer layers removed), then cut lengthwise into wedges about 1.5” wide (leaving core intact)
About 2 to 3 cups of half-and-half or cream, or enough to cover the vegetables
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
Kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper
3 or 4 large springs of thyme, leaves removed and finely chopped
1 large leafy sprig of rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
heaping ¼ cup finely grated pecorino romano (or parmesan reggiano)
In a 3 to 4 quart pan, combine potatoes, fennel wedges, bay leaf, and fennel seed. Add enough half-and-half to fully cover the potatoes and fennel. Season generously with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Over medium-high heat, bring the half-and-half to a simmer, then lower heat to just maintain the simmer. Cook until the potatoes and fennel are soft and tender, about 20 minutes. Take off the heat. The potatoes and fennel should be fully cooked at this point.
While potatoes and fennel are braising, preheat broiler to medium-high. In a small bowl, combine rosemary, thyme, pecorino, and orange zest.
Remove potatoes and fennel wedges from the half-and-half with a spider or slotted spoon, and transfer them to a gratin or casserole dish. Some of the half-and-half will cling to the vegetables, which is a good thing. Make sure to generously coat the bottom with olive oil to prevent sticking. Taste the potatoes and fennel for seasoning – if you need more salt or pepper, add them now. Toss with olive oil (about 1 tablespoon), then the herb-cheese-orange zest mixture. Arrange the potatoes and fennel wedges in a single layer to promote even browning.
Place the casserole dish under the broiler (about 6 inches away from the source of heat). Broil for about 3 to 5 minutes, or until the potatoes and fennel are caramelized and crispy around the edges. (I typically brown the vegetables more than the ones in the picture above...just leave them under the broiler until they've reached your desired crispness!)