|Fennel and onion gratin.|
But my first trip to France introduced me to the joys of Pernod, Ricard and other anise-scented liquors - not licorice at all, but something much more delicious. And in an adult beverage! And then further travel across Provence and into Italy revealed the wonders of fennel - perhaps the most subtle and delicious member of the whole licorice/anise/fennel family - and I was a convert. Fennel in sausage, fennel in risotto, fennel as a base for fish, thin-sliced fennel in a crisp salad? It's all good.
Tonight, armed with a big, fresh fennel bulb, I threw together a warming fennel gratin.
The entire process only required about 45 minutes, much of it just waiting time, and the result made a fine dinner, with warm yeast rolls on the side and a simple country wine (Belleruche 1912 Cotes-du-Rhone Blanc) to go along.
The procedure was almost too simple for a recipe: Cut the bulb into 1/2-inch thick vertical slices, discard the core, and cut the slices crosswise into 1-inch chunks. Cut a white onion into similar chunks, and smash a couple of big garlic cloves. Put all this in a black-iron skillet with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and pan-roast over high heat for 10 or 15 minutes until browned. Sprinkle in a little fennel pollen if you have it (optional, but it does kick the fennel flavor up a notch), and top with about 1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Bake at 400F for about 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and browning. Garnish with a couple of reserved fennel fronds and serve.