I have a bit of a habit of buying cookbooks when I am abroad. Last summer when I was travelling around europe in my boyfriend’s VW campervan I must’ve acquired at least 5 books, in the space of 6 weeks. Most in languages I do not, and expect, will never speak. Needless to say almost all of them have never been used. So after over a year of sitting on my shelf, once my Barcelona cookbook had really earned the privilege of being used. A few thumbprints later, and I had found my dinner… a gratin, inspired a Catalan/ Italian vegetable dish – Fennel and Cauliflower gratin. It was the flavour pairing of the two veggies that I liked the sound of, even though I am rather a fan of Fennel alone, just check out my Fennel and Almond Gratin, it was the combination of the two I was keen to try.
I have only recently gotten into the Cauli. Like so many unfortunates, my first experience of cauliflower was school. The daily portion of mush, that they forced onto our plates was scarring. Boiled to within an inch of grey mush, it had little more taste than wallpaper paste and as much texture as regurgitated mushy peas. My first experience actually enjoying it in any way, other then drowned in Bechamel was when I was working at Waitrose Magazine. I was experimenting with it as an alternative to cous cous… blitzed in the food processor and tossed in garlic oil, and served with roasted squash and mixed leaves, it was surprisingly good. A definitely deal maker for a former hater. Since then I have been trying to find other ways to use it that are more than just tolerable. I hope you will agree, this recipe is one that more than hits the mark.
- 1 medium Cauliflower, divided into small florets
- 1 large/2 small bulbs of Fennel, halved
- 6 tbs Olive Oil
- 1 medium Onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
- 250ml Double Cream or Creme Fraiche
- 60g Fresh Breadcrumbs
- 2 tsps Lemon Juice
- 80g Mature Cheddar
- 1 tsp fresh Thyme Leaves
- 100ml Olive Oil
- 6 cloves of Garlic
- 250g Fresh Breadcrumbs
- a pinch of Chilli Flakes
- Salt and Pepper
- 50g Parmesan, grated
- 2 tbs fresh Parsely, finely chopped
- 1 tbs fresh Thyme Leaves, finely chopped
Heat a tablespoon of Olive Oil in a large frying pan, over a medium heat. Add the Onion and cook until soft. Once soft and transluent, add the Garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes. You don’t want to colour the Onions just soften them. Once cooked, turn the Onion and Garlic into a bowl and set aside. Keep the frying pan at hand.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Blanch the Cauliflower florets for 6-7 minutes, or until soft. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to a large bowl, set aside. Use the same pan of boiling water to blanche the Fennel for 5-6 minutes, or until soft.
Heat 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil in the frying pan over a medium/ high heat. Drain the Fennel and pat dry with kitchen paper. Slice the Fennel into thin strips before adding to the to the frying pan. Cook the Fennel for a couple of minutes on each side, or until it is looking golden brown before flipping over and cooking on the other side until golden.
Once the Fennel is cooked, add the cooked Onion and Cauliflower to the frying pan and continue to cook for a few minutes, until the Fennel and Cauliflower can be mashed with a fork to break the Fennel and Cauliflower into smaller chunks. Reduce the heat to low and mix through the Cream, Cheddar, Lemon Juice, Parsley, Thyme and Breadcrumbs. Season to taste. Take the pan off the heat once the Cheese has melted.
Add the Cauliflower and Fennel mixture to a large baking tray or an over-friendly, earthenware dish. If need be divide between two baking dishes.
Preheat the grill to a medium/ high setting, whilst you make the breadcrumb topping.
Add the Garlic and half the Breadcrumbs to a food processor and blitz to a paste. Add the remaining Breadcrumbs, Parmesan, Parsley, Thyme, Olive Oil, Chili Flakes, season with Salt and Pepper and pulse until the mixture starts to clump slightly. Top the Cauliflower and Fennel with the Gratin topping. Place the Gratin dish beneath the grill and cook for 4-6 minutes, rotating the dish halfway through. Check the dish, return for further couple of minutes if the topping is not yet golden brown.
Serve hot or cold.