Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fennel and Tomato Gratin

Fennel and Tomato Gratin on plate, overhead view

Olives Add Zing to this Provençal Dish

When I think about the flavors of Provence, I think of sweet tomatoes, fragrant herbs, and salty olives.  Oh, there are plenty of other Provençal foods, too.  But for me, these three ingredients conjure the essence of southeastern France.

Fennel is also popular in Provence.  That isn’t surprising, since it plays so nicely with tomatoes and olives.  And the longer you cook it, the sweeter and mellower it becomes.  So it’s a no brainer to combine all these ingredients in a gratin.  Topped with flavorful cheese, they make a great sidekick for roast or grilled meat, chicken, or seafood.

This flexible dish is ideal for busy schedules.  You can make it partially ahead.  Plus, it tastes equally good hot from the oven or cooled to room temperature, so no split-second timing is required.  

And the flavor?  Well, you’ll think you’re in the south of France.  Without having to buy a plane ticket.


Fennel and Tomato Gratin on plate with baking dish in background

Recipe:  Fennel and Tomato Gratin

This recipe directs you to start the fennel and tomato on top of the stove.  Then put them into a baking pan, top with cheese, and finish cooking in the oven.  Easy.

Part of this recipe may look familiar:  It incorporates some of the initial sauce-making steps from the Pasta with Shrimp and Fennel recipe we posted earlier this week. But this recipe calls for more fennel (double the amount, in fact) and the tomato remains chunky rather than being cooked into a runny sauce. And the olives and cheese take the flavor of this dish in an entirely different direction.

There are numerous recipes for fennel gratins, although many don’t contain tomato, as mine does. This recipe was adapted from Martha Rose Shulmna’s Mediterranean Harvest.

Prep time for this dish is about 10 minutes. Active cooking time adds another 20, plus you’ll need at least 30 minutes of unattended cooking in the oven.  Figure total time as an hour, or maybe a bit more.

This recipe yields 6 to 8 side dish-sized servings (it works as a main dish too; see Notes).  Leftovers keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.

Ingredients
  • 2 medium fennel bulbs (you want at least 4 cups of chopped fennel)
  • 1 medium onion (a large onion works too; I like yellow onion in this dish, but the kind isn’t important)
  • 2 - 4 cloves of garlic (to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons pure olive oil (the cheap stuff)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup pitted olives, preferably a mix of green and black
  • ½ - 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or other herb of choice; see Notes)
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained (you can also substitute whole tomatoes)
  • ~3 ounces Gruyère cheese, freshly grated (see Notes about the quantity)
  • 1 or 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese (ditto)
 Procedure
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Rinse the fennel and remove the stalks and green tops, and dry.  Roughly chop some of the green fuzzy fronds, and reserve them for garnish (optional).  Using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, slice off the root end of each bulb.  Cut or peel off the outer part of the bulbs if they’re tough.  Cut the fennel bulbs in quarters lengthwise, and then cut into thin slices across the width.
  3. Peel the onion and cut in half lengthwise.  Slice thinly, parallel to the equator.  Peel the garlic and slice thinly (you can also mince, but I like to use distinct pieces).
  4. Heat a large skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium heat for at least 2 minutes.  When hot, add the oil, and wait until it’s warm (it will ripple slightly).  Add the fennel, onion, and garlic, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Sauté on medium-low until the onion is fully translucent and begins to brown (about 10 minutes).
  5. Meanwhile, pit the olives if necessary and chop them roughly.
  6. When the onion is ready, add the olives, crushed red pepper, and thyme.  Sauté for a minute, then add the can of tomatoes (if the skillet isn’t large enough, transfer the whole thing to a sauce pan).  You’ll have a thick mix of fennel, onion, and tomato.  Simmer for 10 minutes (longer, if you wish; see Notes).
  7. While the fennel-and-tomato mix is simmering, grate the cheeses.
  8. After the fennel/tomato mix has simmered for at least 10 minutes, scrape it into a 2- or 3-quart gratin or baking dish, smooth the mixture, and sprinkle the grated cheeses on top.  Bake for 30 minutes or a bit longer, until the mixture is hot and bubbly, and the cheese is nicely browned on top.  (If the dish is ready to go but the cheese isn’t quite as brown as you like, run the gratin under the broiler for a few minutes.)
  9. Serve with a garnish of chopped fennel fronds, if desired.
Fennel and Tomato Gratin in white ramekin, overhead view

Notes
  • You can simmer this longer than 10 minutes (Step 6) if you wish; you’ll develop a slightly richer flavor.  If you do this, you’ll need less time in the oven – basically enough to melt and brown the cheese.
  • Instead of dried thyme, you could substitute dried (or fresh) marjoram, oregano, or herbes de Provence (a mix that usually includes savory, fennel, basil, thyme, and lavender).  Or use some fresh basil.
  • My recipe calls for two cheeses atop this dish:  Gruyère and either Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.  You can go with just one cheese if you wish, but a mixture is nice.  Exact measurements aren’t critical.  You can use anywhere from 3 to 5 ounces of cheese (total), depending on your taste.
  • For a nice variation, toast some bread crumbs (about a cup) and add them to the cheese.  This mix will create a slightly crusty topping.
  • You can add anchovies to this dish if you like.  Use a 2-ounce can packed in olive oil (drained).  Add the anchovies to the skillet at the beginning of Step 6, sauté for a couple of minutes until they dissolve, then add the olives and other ingredients.
  • You could also add capers (maybe 3 tablespoons) along with the anchovies (add them with the olives in Step 6).  Capers will make this dish not only Provençal-style, but more specifically Niçoise-style (Nice is a city in Provence, on the coast near the border with Italy).
  • There are several make-ahead strategies for this dish.  The easiest is to prepare it through Step 6, then cool the tomato-and-fennel mixture and refrigerate it until you’re ready to continue.
  • Or you can put the mixture into a baking dish and top with cheeses, as directed in Step 8.  But instead of baking, you can let it cool, then cover and refrigerate, and bake it when you’re ready.
  • This dish really does taste great at many different temperatures.  It’s excellent hot from the oven, but it’s still scrumptious half an hour later (when it’s still warm), or even after it has rested for a while and cooled to room temperature.
  • Although this is meant to be a side dish, the cheese makes it work as a main dish, too (serving 3 or 4).  You’ll probably want to serve it with a salad, and maybe some nice bread or rolls.  Add a bottle of wine, and you have a festive dinner!
Fennel and Tomato Gratin on plate, with fork and napkin

Fennel Fest

“What a feast of fennel we’ve enjoyed these past few weeks,” exclaimed Mrs. Kitchen Riffs as she forked her Fennel and Tomato Gratin. “We had some wonderful Braised Fennel. And that Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans was out of this world. Speaking of shrimp, the Pasta with Shrimp and Fennel was also delish.”

“And the Shaved Fennel Salad,” I reminded her. “What a great way to start a meal!”

“How could I forget!” she said.  “That salad might be the best dish of them all.  Although this gratin is a definite winner, too.”  She forked another mouthful, then paused to savor.  “So, any more fennel recipes on tap?”

“One, possibly two — we’ll see.  But we’re going to take a break from fennel, for a couple of weeks at least.  I’m itching to cook something else.”

Mrs K R reached for the gratin dish and spooned seconds onto her plate.  “Yeah, the produce manager at our market must think we’re on some sort of weird fennel-soup diet,” she mused.  “Of course, I’m loving this.  But it might be nice to have a change.  We haven’t done anything chocolate for awhile.”

“Right.  We’ll do that soon.  Not next week, but soon,” I promised.

“The week after, then,” said Mrs K R.  Firmly.  “It’s been decided.”

That’s Mrs K R!  She knows what she wants, and she knows how to get it.

You may also enjoy reading about:
Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans
Shaved Fennel Salad
Braised Fennel
Pasta with Shrimp and Fennel
Salade Niçoise
Pasta Puttanesca
Old School Macaroni and Cheese
Tuna Noodle Casserole
Soupe au Pistou

87 comments:

  1. The Gratin looks beautiful and so tasty!
    Vacations in France at your kitchen table.
    Great recipe.

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    1. Hi Daniela, it's a wonderful dish. And it's the next best thing to a vacation in France! Thanks for the comment.

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  2. This looks delicious! My husband isn't fond of fennel but I'm wondering if with the tomatoes and cheese it would disguise it enough so the fennel flavor wouldn't be so prominent. Yum this looks good!

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    1. Hi Vicki, cook the fennel a bit longer and he won't even know there's fennel in the dish - it turns quite sweet, and although it doesn't completely lose its characteristic flavor, it kinda turns into something else. Plus the olives and cheese are the first flavors you notice in this; the fennel is a nice 2nd taste. Thanks for the comment.

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  3. What a lovely dish, and it looks so flavorful!! MMM. I can't wait to see what that "something chocolate" will be :D

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    1. Hi Kristi, this really is flavorful. And chocolate is always interesting, isn't it? ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  4. This is really beautiful and elegant. I love that there is no heavy cream. I have to make this ASAP - thank you John!

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    1. Hi Alyssa, this isn't one of those gratins (like many potato ones) where you spoon up tight little wedges - the consistency is much more loose, because there isn't really a binding ingredient like cream. But the taste is wonderful - you'll enjoy it. Thanks for the comment.

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  5. I suppose balance in this world can mean that you eat a lot of fennel and I eat none. I am here to inform you that I'm upsetting that balance. I bought some fennel. It is all your fault. :)

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    1. Hi Bar, oh no! The world is out of balance! ;-) Sorry about all the fennel lately, but I think you'll really like it. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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    1. Hi Subhie, you're so right: it's truly yummy and flavorful! Thanks for the comment.

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  7. My mouth is watering! This looks really, really good.This sounds really, really good. But I am always ready for chocolate...

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    1. Hi Abbe, it's wonderful! Really worth having. And chocolate, of course, is always of interest. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  8. I could honestly eat my screen in attempt to taste this :)

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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    1. Hi Uru, alas, the screen doesn't taste all that good. ;-) Real life, though, this is delish! Thanks for the comment.

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  9. I think this is the winner of your fennel series, at least for me! I LOVE LOVE LOVE gratin. Gruyère cheese on top of all the amazing ingredients. I have weakness in front of this dish. I will clear up my plate easily, forgetting about dieting. This sounds like the best fennel gratin ever!

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    1. Hi Nami, this one really might be the winner - it's really good. Although after I take a bit of a break from fennel, I have one with sardines that I think you'll like (I know you like sardines). Thanks for the comment.

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    1. Hi Alex, coming right up! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  11. Wouldn't it be nice to be in the South of France! But if we can't be there we may as well eat like the French and enjoy this wonderful gratin. These flavours must be wonderful and your presentation makes me wish I could push my plate forward for a slice. Looking forward to next week's chocolate recipe xx

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    1. Hi Charlie, week after next for chocolate. ;-) And this gratin really is wonderful - such great flavors. Thanks for your kind words, and comment.

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  12. John, this post is so well written (as all others as well) and so perfectly illustrated that I could smell this dish by the end! You know my love to everything fennel and dill, so I went to my cupboard and got some fennel seeds (the closest I can get to real deal at this moment), and I am chewing on fennel seeds as I write this comment. :)
    And I wouldn't mind to be on a fennel soup diet for some time if I had market like your's nearby. I was looking at the map another day planning my summer road trips, and St. Louis is not that far. I need to explore this parts of the country.
    Last week we were in Seattle, and I need to tell you I was quite disappointed with my photos. I was getting my hand on taking pictures here, in the South, but Pacific NW is completely different story. It looks as I had clouds not only over my head, but in my camera too. I guess taking photos on a gloomy day is another challenge.

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    1. Hi Marina, you should come to St. Louis! Fun place to visit, and good eating. Although Kansas City might be a bit closer for you - I'd need to check a map. Anyway, sorry about your difficulty finding fennel! It's in all the supermarkets here, or really anyplace I've ever lived in the US. Fennel seeds have a great flavor, but as you know, not really the same as the fennel bulb. I'd think the clouds in Seattle would provide a nice, soft light; although with the light that soft, it might be hard to give it much direction, which would be a bummer. Anyway, thanks for your kind words, and comment.

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    2. The big chain store, you know, the big one, doesn't sell it here. When the snow melts, I'll go to a natural store in Fayeteville, one hour to the North to stock up on some produce and hope they have it there.
      I plan to take a class on photography and lighting in the fall, maybe even in Seattle. I feel as I am in dead end in my photography skills...

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    3. Hi Marina, you might want to try the Perfect Picture School of Photography (PPSOP.com) - they do online photo instruction. A bit overpriced, IMO but there's some good info. They have several food photography courses, and I found their course on artificial lighting for food course a great jump start after I purchased some studio lights (the course got me up-to-speed with lights quickly, and having someone look at and critique your photos is useful). Re fennel, if you're friendly at all with a decent local restaurant, you might ask if you could buy some from them - they might be willing to order some for you, and their produce supplier wouldn't be making them buy a case of anything (I think you said your produce manager would order some, but you'd need to take a case). Worth looking into, anyway.

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    4. Thank you John! I will definitely look into PPSOP.com, sounds interesting. I do need that push from a plato I am on right now. I was also thinking on taking some live classes when we move this summer and settle down somewhere. I am more of the visual learner. Thanks for advise!

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  13. What a gorgeous plate! I love fennel, and anything that transports me to France is a winner! Thank you for sharing another dose of inspiration. I hope you are having a great week and are staying warm.

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    1. Hi Monet, I am indeed staying warm, although we're supposed to have a nasty winter storm tomorrow. :-( This is such a great dish that I might have to have it to forget to bad weather! Thanks for the comment.

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  14. This looks wonderful with all that melted cheese. And I like that no special timing is involved. That kills the photography part pretty effectively.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, yeah, not having to rush to eat this certainly makes the photography easier! Thanks for the comment.

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  15. Anything with tomato sauce and melted cheese is pretty hard to resist in my book. What I wouldn't give for a fork to taste that now.

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    1. Hi Carolyn, the melted cheese certainly gets me every time! Wish you had some! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  16. Oh John! That lead photograph is a stunner! And can you imagine that sweet cooked fennel TOGETHER with the salty olives! (Of course you can, you made it, you ate it!) That sure must be heaven in a gratin dish! But I'm with Mrs. KR. Chocolate's good, too! I'm glad it's been decided! ;- }

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    1. Hi Anne, it's a wonderful dish! And the olives really taste great. But you're right - so does chocolate. ;-) Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

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  17. I'm dying to stick a fork in this and start eating! This is definitely a full meal. Great choice of cheese. I definitely need to try this! Thanks for sharing this John!

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    1. Hi MJ, eat enough and it is a full meal - we certainly made it one! Really good flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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  18. Definitely that looks so tasty, I can even smell it from here :)

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    1. Hi Raymund, you'd definitely enjoy the aroma of this! Thanks for the comment.

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  19. Aw, you folks! I'm loving the fennel, but I do hope you get a chance to do that chocolate stuff soon ;) what a fun recipe!

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    1. Hi Ala, fennel running out of your ears? ;-) Given the sweets-orientation of your blog, I'm not surprised! Week after next. Unless I change my mind. And I doubt if Mrs K R will let me. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  20. This looks delicious, your photos are wonderful! Great recipe, I will have to give this one a try some time, thanks for sharing :)

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    1. Hi Ali, it's a nice simple dish that combines some good flavors into something that has remarkable flavor. I think you'll enjoy it. Thanks for the comment.

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  21. Another marvelous dish with fennel! I'd be delighted with this as a meatless entree.

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    1. Hi Liz, I have to say that this is the sort of dish that usually eat for our entire dinner (with a salad)! It's so good that once you get started, you really don't want to start eating. Thanks for the comment.

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  22. Wow, you outdid yourself with this one! LOVE fennel. It will be the base for our Sunday supper, and I'll figure out the rest of our meal around it. Thanks for sharing!

    Denise

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    1. Hi Denise, isn't this a nice dish? I think you'll really enjoy it - tons of flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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  23. I'll say you guys feasted on fennel. I'm glad you went for the two cheese combo, I think I would have felt cheated otherwise, lol. I'm thinking I need to add some fennel to my list for next week. Hope you and the Mrs. are enjoying your week.
    -Gina-

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    1. Hi Gina, around here when there's a choice between one or two, we always take both! Thanks for the comment.

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  24. Oh, I love gratins. This one looks absolutely gorgeous. You've really sold me on fennel in the past few posts, and I predict I'll be trying one or more of your recipes very soon.

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    1. Hi Beth, this is a really flavorful gratin. And every gratin looks pretty! Hope you enjoy the fennel! Thanks for the comment.

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  25. What a fantastic dish, John, and your photos within this post are remarkable, as well. As I've mentioned before, we don't cook fennel but I'll gladly make an exception for this gratin. And I'll go the whole nine yards, adding anchovies and capers to the mix. I just wish I wasn't so far behind in my blogging duties. I would have seen this before I went to the store this morning. With a snowstorm coming, I bet having this in the oven tomorrow would have been heaven-sent. No matter. It will be just as good a little later. Thanks for sharing such a great recipe, John.

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    1. Hi John, we got snow today - major pain! Just got in from shoveling. I'm getting too old to do this sort of thing. ;-) Anyway, adding the anchovies and capers really is wonderful - I think you'll like. Thanks for the comment.

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  26. I've seen several of my food buddies use fennel this past week. I'm clearly missing out. It has such a lovely flavor, that I'm not sure why I never pick it up at the store. Even better, it's always affordable around here. I love the Gruyère. It really takes this dish over the top for me.

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    1. Hi Kristi, fennel is really good stuff! I've been seeing it a bit lately, too. Both cheeses really add a lot, but Gruyère is special, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.

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  27. Comfort meal! I do love that there is olives in this, definitely adds a delicious flavour and zing.

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    1. Hi Natalie, the olives are wonderful in this! Just a yummy dish all around. Thanks for the comment.

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  28. Marvelous! Fennel is such a wonderful vegetable and this gratin looks ever so mouthwatering.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Hi Rosa, the gratin tasted even better than it looked! Thanks for the comment.

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  29. Beautiful recipe, fennel always reminds me of the Provencal staple Pastis!

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    1. Hi Gourmantine, Pastis is so nice, isn't it? If I want more of an anise flavor when I'm cooking with fennel, I sometimes put a little bit of Pastis in the dish! Thanks for the comment.

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  30. What a beautiful side dish for roasted chicken or pan seared steaks -- we love fennel and are always looking for new ways to prepare it -- sounds delish!

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    1. Hi Judy, this makes a superb side dish for both of those! It really helps liven up the plate. Thanks for the comment.

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  31. I can only dream that I am in France, eating this with fish and greens. You keep inspiring me to buy some fennel, I just need to wait a few more months. Thanks John for another great recipe.

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    1. Hi Liz, fennel definitely tastes better when it's cool, IMO, so for where you live, waiting is a smart idea. But when the time comes, you'll enjoy this! Thanks for the comment.

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  32. The gratin looks delicious! Loving all that fennel! And I love it with all the cheese as a meal!

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    1. Hi Judy, with all the cheese it basically could be a meal! If you have seconds. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  33. I don't think you're on Pinterest? But I've just pinned this under recipes to try.. This is definitely a dish we'd love around here, it has all the flavors!! We loved our trip to France, mostly the food, well, the setting as well. One day I will have to live there for the summer!

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    1. Hi Just a Smidgen, I actually have a Pinterest account, but I've never actually pinned anything to it! I'm the world's worst at social media. But sometime this year I do want to get going with Pinterest- it's such a cool concept. Living in France for the summer would be awesome! Thanks for the comment (and pin!).

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  34. I love fennel but I only use it in salads or eat it raw. This wonderful recipe is about to change that. I can't wait to try it. All the flavors in it click and I am sure they taste heavenly together

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    1. Hi Sawsan, a lot of people eat fennel only in salads or raw. And it's really good that way. But it's great to cook with, too! Hope you enjoy it. Thanks for the comment.

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  35. Hi John! Last summer I fell in love with fennel, and olives and tomatoes I could eat everyday. Your gratin sounds and looks mouthwatering. Thanks for sharing, hope you're having a great weekend.

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    1. Hi Nancy, it's a great combination of flavors! Truly wonderful. I'm having a great weekend, and hope you are too. Thanks for commenting.

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  36. I am not a huge fan of fennel, but I love gratin! Cream and cheese.... yummy! This dish might just turn around my fennel aversion!

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    1. Hi Laura, what about gratin isn't to like? ;-) If this dish won't turn around your fennel aversion, nothing will! Thanks for the comment.

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  37. Hello! I recently just started a youtube Korean food channel, EasyKoreanFood, where you can learn how to make fast & easy Korean food! It would mean the world to me if you could check it out because I'm just starting out! Thanks!

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    1. Hi Easy Korean Food, thanks for the info.

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  38. Hi, very interesting recipes. Something new to me but it sure look very inviting. Your food pictures is excellent and very professional. Will check out your other recipes later. Thanks for sharing.

    Have a great weekend. Greetings from Malaysia.

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    1. Hi Amelia, glad you enjoyed the post! Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

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  39. John, this dish is making my mouth water. I can imagine roasting the veggies makes them a little sweet and then the bit of tart with the olives and all the herbs. Just that would have been great but then you go and bake it with cheese, it is almost sinful. A great low carb side that would really not make you miss the pasta on your plate. I also like this as I can make it in advance or pop in the oven while entertaining guests. Have a super weekend. BAM

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    1. Hi Bam, this really is super delish! A pretty simple dish, and as you say (other than the cheese) not all that caloric. Thanks for the comment.

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  40. Wow you have whole series of Fennel recipes!!! I can see the goodness in fennel now :)

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    1. Hi Shibi, yeah, I went a little wild with the fennel, didn't I? ;-) But it's might tasty stuff, so it's worth it! Thanks for the comment.

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  41. This gratin sounds very tasty and the pictures are so inviting John!

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    1. Hi Tia, it's really a flavorful dish! Pretty healthy, too. Thanks for the comment.

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  42. Okay seriously man this is gorgeous. I could eat the whole dish all by lonesome and probably will.

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    1. Hi Kim, it's good enough that you could eat it by yourself! One of those addictive flavors. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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