Roasted fennel is tender, sweet and oh-so-delicious! Bake this easy side dish under a blanket of mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, topped with crunchy breadcrumbs. Yum!
When was the last time you tried roasted fennel?
The same vegetable that lends its light anise licorice flavor and delicate crunch to quick slaws and salads transforms in the oven, becoming milder and sweeter.
It works perfectly as the star in a warm, cheesy vegetable gratin.
What does fennel taste like?
Fennel is a vegetable also known as Florence fennel or finocchio.
It’s related to celery and carrots botanically, and it has a crisp sweet bulb with stalks and feathery fronds on top.
It tastes like anise, with a sweet licorice-like flavor that people tend to either love or despise.
Roasted fennel becomes meltingly tender, and its distinctive licorice flavor becomes sweet and muted.
So if you’re not sure if you even like fennel, roasting it is a much more approachable way to start enjoying it.
In this recipe, fennel’s natural flavor profile is amplified by some simple Italian-style seasonings — fennel seeds, chili flakes, plenty of garlic and lots of cheese.
Fennel baked in a gratin makes a delicious alternative to the usual suspects like potatoes and other root vegetables.
Plus, I can tell you it smells amazing as it bakes!
Tips for fresh fennel and how to prepare for cooking:
- Choose bulbs that still have their stalks and fronds attached, which is a good sign of freshness. The feathery leaves also have delicate flavor and make a beautiful garnish.
- Look for fennel bulbs with outer layers that are firm and white, not dried and turning brown.
- Use a vegetable peeler to trim the outer layers, removing any tough parts and fibers.
- The stalks can be tough and stringy, but they are perfect to throw in vegetable and seafood soups (like Julia Child’s Bouillabaisse)
Roasted Fennel Parmesan
- 2 ½ pounds (1135 g) fresh fennel, 3 or 4 small bulbs
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
- 3 garlic cloves, pressed or smashed into a paste with a large knife
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- Pinch of crushed red chili pepper
- 8 ounces (225 g) fresh whole milk mozzarella, shredded or sliced thinly
- ½ cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
- ½ cup (50 g) grated Parmigiano cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
- Preheat oven to 375 (190) degrees.
- Trim off the fennel stalks, reserving some of the feathery leaves for garnish. Make a thin slice on the bottom of each bulb to clean the root end, but keep the base intact. Use a vegetable peeler to pare the outer layer of the bulb, removing any discolored and tough, stringy parts. Slice into 1/2-inch thick wedges.
- Boil the fennel for 1 minute in a pot of lightly salted water. Drain well.
- Put the fennel in a shallow baking dish. Combine the olive oil, fennel seeds, garlic, rosemary, chili and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.
- Pour the oil mixture over the fennel and toss well so that each piece is evenly coated. Cover the fennel with the mozzarella cheese, then sprinkle the bread crumbs over. Sprinkle with the parmesan.
- Bake 25 minutes, until the cheese is browned and bubbling. Sprinkle with the parsley and some of the fennel frond leaves and serve.