My husband is a lover of fennel. I quite enjoy fennel too, both the bulb and festive fronds in a salad or decorating my salmon. And let's not forget fennel seeds, rubbed into a pork shoulder and slow roasted like we do at Christmas... But I wouldn't have called myself 'fennel mad', and if not for his ardent adoration I doubt I would have insisted on including fennel in our diet on the regular. That was until I started baking it. And now? Well it's an odd day indeed if you don't see fennel on my kitchen bench. How specifically did I turn fennel mad? I baked it in milk. Yes, milk. I had come across this technique whilst searching for Italian classics one gloomy Spring Sunday, as I was feeling a tad homesick for Rome (astute readers may notice that I don't technically live in Rome, nor have I ever. But Rome sure feels like home and one day I'll live there, one day...) My computer screen ablaze with recipes for buttery saltimbocca, vibrant amatriciana, carb-comforting potato and rosemary pizza, it was the fennel with milk that stuck in my mind. That evening I assembled this simple dish and oh man...It. Was. GOOD.
No, really, we are completely mad for this milk-baked fennel in our house. This dish is creamy and rich, reminiscent of that childhood favourite potato bake in flavour, though lacking in heavy cream or starch, which moves it away from feeling stodgy. It's fennel sorcery, my friends.
This dish marries beautifully with baked fish, but we've also paired generous scoops alongside Jonathon's sausages and even scrambled eggs. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a more substantial meal component
1 large Fennel Bulb
1/2 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup Milk 1 clove Garlic, crushed
A pinch freshly grated Nutmeg
Sea Salt and freshly cracked Black Pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
2. Thinly slice your fennel horizontally, ~1/4 inch thick. Heat the olive oil in a large fry pan over medium heat. Cook your fennel for ~2 minutes each side until golden, then remove and place in a mixing bowl.
3. Add the milk, crushed garlic, nutmeg and a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Stir to combine the ingredients, then pour into a baking dish ~17 x 21cm. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.
4. After 20 minutes, sprinkle the cheese on top, cover again and bake for a further 15 minutes, before removing the foil and baking for a final 10 minutes to allow the top to brown (total baking time ~45 minutes).