Fennel is one of my absolute favorite vegetables because it's incredibly versatile. Shave it raw and serve in salads, chop up and sauté it and add to soups, or sauté it and then cook it with a WHOLE lot of cheese.
This is a really wonderful side dish with grilled meats or fish, and, BONUS, you can assemble it all ahead of time and then cook it before serving.
- 4 medium fennel bulbs, about 2 1/2 pounds, topped, a few green fronds reserved
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more to oil the baking pan
- ½ teaspoon fennel seed, crushed or roughly powdered in a mortar or spice mill
- 3 garlic cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon chopped rosemary
- ½ pound fresh mozzarella, sliced or shredded
- 2 teaspoons rosemary leaves
- ¼ cup coarse dry homemade bread crumbs from an Italian or French loaf
- ½ cup grated Parmesan (about 1 1/2 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, or a mixture of parsley and fennel fronds
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove a thin layer of the fennel bulbs’ tough exterior with a paring knife or sharp vegetable peeler. Cut the fennel crosswise into half-inch-thick slices.
In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the fennel and sauté until the fennel softens and starts to caramelize. Season with salt and pepper. Lightly oil an oven-proof baking dish. Layer in the fennel, using a spatula to distribute it evenly.
In a small bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons olive oil, the fennel seed and the garlic, smashed to a paste with a little salt, the pepper flakes and the chopped rosemary.
Drizzle 2 tablespoons of this mixture over the fennel. Sprinkle with the rosemary leaves. Cover with a layer of sliced or shredded mozzarella, then sprinkle with bread crumbs.
Drizzle the remaining oil mixture, then sprinkle with Parmesan. (The dish may be prepared to this point several hours before baking.)
Bake, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes, until nicely browned.
Garnish with the chopped parsley or a mixture of the parsley and fennel fronds.