Make Ahead

Florentine Fennel Gratin

November 14, 2011
0 Ratings
  • Serves 2 - 4
Author Notes

When I was in college, my host mother in Florence taught me how to make this. It’s been one of my favorite fancy side dishes ever since. My son always requests it at Thanksgiving. It's great for a big meal like that, because it can be made ahead of time. ;o) —AntoniaJames

What You'll Need
  • 3 small or 2 medium bulbs of fennel
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons Wondra (superfine) flour
  • 1 ½ cups whole milk, warmed
  • ¾ cup grated parmigiano, divided in half
  • ½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butter for preparing the baking dish
  • A good-sized pinch (1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon) freshly grated nutmeg
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit. Generously butter a flat baking dish.
  2. Cut the hard end off the bottom of each fennel bulb, remove the tough outer layers, cut in half lengthwise, remove the core and fronds and the thin stalks on top. Slice thinly from top to bottom. Very finely chop enough of the stalks, taken from the lower part of them, to make about ¼ cup. Finely chop about a tablespoon of the greenest fronds.
  3. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat; when it starts to shimmer, add the sliced fennel. Saute for about two minutes. Then add the chopped fennel stalks. Cook, stirring frequently, until the slices are just barely soft. Remove from pan.
  4. Add the butter over medium heat. Once it is melted and has started to get hot, sprinkle in the flour, stirring to combine, adding a bit at a time until all has been added. Continue to stir it over the heat until the mixture is a light golden brown.
  5. Add the milk gradually, whisking or stirring briskly all the while, to incorporate the milk and to remove any lumps. When the sauce is very smooth, add ¼ cup of cheese, the fresh thyme leaves and the chopped fennel fronds; stir well. Test for seasoning and correct, if necessary.
  6. Put the fennel in the baking dish. Pour the sauce over the fennel and sprinkle on the freshly grated nutmeg and the remaining cheese.
  7. Bake until the cheese has melted, the sauce is bubbling around the fennel and the top of the dish has become brown in a few places. This should take between 10 and 25 minutes, depending on what shelf of your oven you use, how warm the ingredients are when you put the dish in the oven, etc. (You can put it on the top shelf or under the broiler for just a minute or so, if the dish is generally warm throughout and you just want to melt and/or darken the cheese on top.)
  8. I hope you like this. Yours truly, AntoniaJames ;o)

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Sara S.
    Sara S.
  • inpatskitchen
  • AntoniaJames
  • Cara Piscitello
    Cara Piscitello

Recipe by: AntoniaJames

See problem, solve problem. Ask questions; question answers. Disrupt, with kindness, courtesy and respect. ;o)

15 Reviews

Cara P. June 27, 2019
My host mom in Florence made the same dish (and taught me as well)! Wonder if we had the same "mom"....
AntoniaJames June 28, 2019
Graziella Lucarelli, whose grown daughters are/were Franca and Stefania Selvatici - but that was so many years ago . Absolutely wonderful people. I have thought about them often since then. (Graziella taught me how to knit, so I think of her not just when cooking the many Tuscan dishes I learned from her, but also of course when I knit.) ;o)
Cara P. July 5, 2019
Different "mom" but same recipe! I guess it is truly a Florentine specialty.
bittersweet February 15, 2016
Thank you for all the detailed make-ahead advice, Antonia. I prepared it a day ahead and it turned out great, in addition to being delicious.
SCL February 14, 2016
How soft is the fennel supposed to be? I see the recipe says to take it out of the pan when the slices are just barely soft, but we thought the texture after taking it out of the oven was a bit too firm.
Also, the "sauce" was so thick, it didn't pour from the pan, and I had to spread it on top of the fennel with a spatula. Therefore, it sat on top and did not permeate the fennel, nor "bubble around the fennel". I used 1% milk. Could that be the reason?
Finally, while we liked the baked cheese topping, we thought the fennel itself was quite bland.
bittersweet November 2, 2015
Looks great. How far ahead have you prepared it?
AntoniaJames November 2, 2015
Hi, bittersweet. I've made it 48 hours beforehand, taking it out of the fridge at least an hour before popping it into the oven, and that's always in a warm kitchen. It's best for it not to be stone cold when you re-heat. I reheat tightly covered in foil for about 20 minutes at 350, and then remove the foil and bake for another for 10, and then finish it under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, watching it like a hawk.
Oh, one more thing -- make sure that the dish is 100% cool before covering and placing in the fridge, to minimize the condensation / extra moisture.
Sara S. October 5, 2015
This looks and sounds fantastic. I am considering making it for Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend. Is the Wondra flour a must? I'm not sure I'll have time to go search for it this week. Can I substitute something?
AntoniaJames October 6, 2015
Hi, Sara S. You can use ordinary AP flour. Just sprinkle it on lightly. Cheers. ;o) P.S. Thank you for your kind words.
A_to_the_Zed November 16, 2011
This dish was delicious! Fennel plus nutmeg and cheese is brilliant.
AntoniaJames November 16, 2011
Thank you so much, A_to_the_Zed! I am glad you liked this. ;o)
inpatskitchen November 15, 2011
Thank YOU! I love using the microplane also!
AntoniaJames November 15, 2011
A Hotline question was just asked about this, because a step was dropped when I posted the recipe. I've edited it, and this time the edits were accepted. (Not all were, when I edited it the first time, shortly after posting.) Just FYI, in case you printed it out already -- something I'm often inclined to do when I see a recipe I like! ;o)
inpatskitchen November 15, 2011
Oh AJ.. this sounds so wonderful!! I LOVE fennel and will try this soon! How much nutmeg?
AntoniaJames November 15, 2011
Thank you for your kind words, and for pointing out that the nutmeg was omitted in the ingredient list. I use a healthy pinch, though frankly, since I've started using a microplane to grate nutmeg, I just grate it directly onto the dish, giving it a good dusting. ;o)