I’ve mentioned to you before that, while I love to cook, I am not very good at making up my own recipes. I’ll never write a cookbook, because I’m just not THAT creative. If I have a recipe in front of me, I can usually tweak it to improve on it, or mess around with the concept a bit, but to come up with something out of thin air? It’s a rare occurrence.
Thankfully, I have a friend who is pretty darn good at making something out of whatever happens to be left in the fridge. My friend, Brian, sent me this recipe a while back. You may remember that I’ve written about Brian before. He also sent me his amazing recipe for Fried Rice that I featured back in December. This time, he was looking for something to make for dinner and threw this together on a whim. It was so tasty, he passed the recipe on to me. I’ve been wanting to make it ever since, but figured it might just be a perfect side dish for Easter, so I tried it this week.
I started by slicing up a sweet onion and one bulb of fennel.
Fennel is a funny looking vegetable. It looks like an onion on the bottom, celery in the middle, and has leaves that look like fresh dill. It tastes like none of these. Eaten raw, fennel has a liquorice flavor to it. When cooked, that mellows out a bit and it tastes sweeter. For this recipe, I cut the stalks and fronds from the bulb, sliced it in half, cut out the woody core, and then thinly sliced up the bulb.
Before I did anything else, I poured some half and half into a small saucepan, added a hefty dash of cinnamon, and a few sprigs of fresh thyme to the pot, and then turned the heat on the stove to low.
As the cream warmed up a bit, I sautéed my sliced onion and fennel in some olive oil.
When the onions and fennel were just about cooked and starting to brown, I threw in some garlic and cooked it in until it was fragrant.
Then, I layered my ingredients into my baking dish. I started with some of the onion mixture, sprinkled some salt and pepper over those, then layered in the apples, and then the potato slices. I repeated the layers one more time, so that the dish was just about filled to the brim.
Once that was done, I finished up my cream sauce. The half and half was nice and warm by this point, and the flavor from the thyme and cinnamon had infused the cream. (Yum, right?) I removed the thyme from the mix, taking off a few of the leaves and leaving them in cream. It couldn’t hurt.
I poured about a teaspoon and a half of olive oil into the pan I’d been cooking my onions in, let it heat, and then whisked in a little flour. Once the flour had cooked just a bit, I slowly whisked in my warmed cream mixture. It thickened, and at this point, I whisked in about a cup of shredded mozzarella cheese, which melted in, nice and smooth.
I seasoned the sauce with some salt and pepper to taste, and then poured the mixture over my potatoes, apples, and fennel mixture.
Before I popped it in the oven, I sprinkled about half of a cup of shredded Parmesan cheese over the top.
I baked the gratin, covered, for forty minutes. Then, I took the foil off, and let it cook for another twenty minutes, until I could push a knife into the potatoes easily. Before I served it up to my eager family, I let it sit for about 15 minutes. This gave everything time to set up, and it was still plenty hot when we dug in.
Brian did it again! This dish was delicious. The sweet apples and fennel paired so nicely with the savory onions and potatoes. It really is a perfect Spring time gratin. Not too heavy, but just rich enough, and really, really tasty.
FENNEL, APPLE & POTATO GRATIN
Adapted from Brian Biddle
- 1 pt half and half
- Fresh thyme
- A dash of cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 medium sweet onion, sliced thinly
- 1 bulb fennel, sliced thinly
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1½ lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1½ tsp. olive oil
- 1½ Tbsp. flour
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup shredded parmesan
- Preheat your oven to 375*F.
- In a small,heavy bottomed sauce pan mix the half and half, pinch of cinnamon, thyme sprigs, and a dash of pepper. Heat the mixture on low until it's warm, but not boiling.
- While the cream mixture is heating, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat in large skillet. Add the sliced onions and fennel and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until just softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and heat for 1 additional minute.
- While onion mixture is cooking, thinly slice the potatoes and peeled/cored apples.
- Layer the ingredients into your greased, shallow, 1½ quart baking dish. Start with half of the onion mixture, sprinkle with some salt and pepper, then layer half of the apples, and then some potato. Repeat the layers again, ending with potato.
- To make the sauce, heat 1½ tsp. of olive oil in the pan. Whisk in the flour, and cook for about 1 minute. Remove the thyme sprigs from the cream, leaving a few leaves behind, and slowly whisk the cream into the flour until smooth. Add mozzarella and stir until melted and smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour the sauce over the potatoes. Sprinkle the shredded parmesan cheese over the top, and cover the dish very loosely with foil.
- Bake for 40 minutes, covered, and then remove the foil and bake for about 20 minutes more, or until the potatoes are easily cut into with a knife. If the potatoes are not done, but the top is browning up too much, just lay the foil back on top.
- Let stand for 10-15 minutes before serving.