Potato Fennel Gratin

Or at least that’s what I want to call this, but then I get teased by John that I am a Midwestern girl and should therefore call it scalloped potatoes or potatoes au gratin (with lots of hard A sounds that I can’t translate into type.)

With a couple of small fennel bulbs to spare from my friend’s Thanksgiving gift of her CSA share and a giant bag of potatoes in my storage shed thanks to my CSA, I longed to combine these into a delicious side dish. I lightly sautéed the fennel with thin ribbons of onion and a touch of minced garlic, trying to avoid over-cooking them so that they retained their faintly green color. I also knew that these would continue to simmer in a milky bath in the oven and wanted these to retain some texture so they wouldn’t be mushy. The milky bath was a  bechamel sauce that came together quickly and was further spiked with flecks of fresh tarragon since I wanted to make the anise flavor of the fennel even more pronounced. I layered the onions and fennel with thin rounds of peeled potatoes then poured on the bechamel. This was then showered with shredded Gruyère, chosen for its melty texture and nutty flavor. A final layer of panko crumbs gave this a wonderful crunch which paired nicely with the firm texture of the potato.

I piled our plates high with large spoonfuls of this gratin and at least for me, this outshone the fennel seed crusted pork tenderloin that was our entrée that night. The gratin was even better a couple days later when we ate leftovers (including pieces of the tenderloin which I thought were rather adorably transformed into tasty sliders.) Consider making this the next time you want a simple but elegant dinner.

  • 3-4 medium German butterball potatoes (or some other firm but not waxy potato would work, such as Yukon Golds)
  • olive oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced into half moons and separate the layers
  • 2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced– about 1 tsp
  • 1.5 cups whole milk
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
  • 2 cups Gruyère cheese, shredded
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup panko crumbs
  • cooking spray

In a medium skillet, heat about 2 tsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced fennel, onion, and minced garlic and saute for 3-5 minutes or until the vegetables wilt slightly. Set aside.

Make the bechamel sauce by melting the butter over medium heat in the bottom of a small, heavy bottomed sauce pan. Whisk in the flour and continue cooking for about 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium high and gradually add in the milk, whisking constantly to ensure that the roux dissolves without any lumps. When milk comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium again and continue whisking for another 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat then mix in about 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/4 tsp of pepper, and the tarragon.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel the potatoes and slice them crosswise into rounds about 1/8 inch thick. In a large baking dish, carefully arrange the slices of potatoes so that the slices slightly overlap one another in rows until you have covered the bottom of the dish. Layer about half of the onion and fennel mixture on top and sprinkle with 1 cup of cheese. Repeat the potato and fennel/onion layers once more, then pour the bechamel sauce over the layers so that it evenly covers the whole dish. Sprinkle on the remaining cup of cheese then sprinkle an even layer of panko crumbs on top. Lightly spray the crumbs with cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes or until the crumbs are golden brown and you can see the casserole is bubbly. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

CSA Count: 4

Fennel, German butterball potatoes, onion, garlic

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