Creamy Italian Fennel Bake (finocchi gratinati)

A scrumptiously creamy italian fennel bake with tons of flavour thanks to the bechamel sauce savoured with shallots and nutmeg. To complete, the crunchy topping with walnuts is to die for!

Italian Fennel Bake Just Taken From The Oven.

Creamy Fennel Casserole

Finocchi gratinati is an italian casserole dish that can be enjoy as a side dish for chicken or fish dishes but also as a main dish if served with a good artisan bread.

I am not a big fan of fennel, actually I rarely have them in my fridge and when I do is because my husband bring some from the farmers market near home.

He loves fennel and for him is enough if I just boil them in salted water and serve them with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

His mamma used to make some easy recipe for him when he was a kid by just adding a few slices of mozzarella and a sprinkle of parmigiano cheese to the boiled fennel, then she will just pop them in the oven until the cheese was bubbling. It was one of his favourite dishes when he was a kid.

I cannot imagine myself being a vegetable lover when I was a child, but for sure I will if we just had in my country the delicious mozzarella and parmigiano italians have here!. Everything taste better with parmigiano cheese on top, believe me.

Fennel is good for you

Fennel is very low in calories and is high in nutrients like potassium, calcium and vitamin C. The bulbs can be eat raw or cooked, the seeds are used in many recipes to enhance the flavour, from sweet to salty, such as italian sausages or biscotti.

When the fruit (bulbs) are raw they have a crunchy and watery texture, like celery and once cooked is very soft, almost melting. The taste is fresh and with a slightly sweet licorice flavour.

Besciamella (bechamel sauce)

The creaminess of this italian fennel bake comes from the besciamella sauce. Now, we’re not talking about the traditional sauce but something a little more flavoured. We added shallots and some vegetable stock to the traditional recipe to make it stand and it turned out divine. I had to refrain myself several times to not lick the spoon before I was done with the video.

Salsa Besciamella is the italian version of the french bechamel sauce. Now, please don’t get me started about who invented the sauce because this discussion has been addressed several times in the internet and it only cause me headaches. So lets move on and talk about this italian fennel bake: The ingredients.

What you’ll need

for besciamella sauce

For the bechamel sauce you’ll need the normal ingredients such as all purpose flour, whole milk, butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Plus something extra to give it a nice flavour: Olive oil, shallots and vegetable stock. That’s it, this is where all flavour concentrate, so try to make it as the recipe calls and you’ll see how delicious is.

If you don’t find or have shallots you can replace them with one and half tablespoon of chopped onions and one teaspoon of garlic finely minced.

ingredients displayed for besciamella sauce on a marble surface.

for the italian fennel bake

For the italian fennel bake you’ll need of course some nice and fresh fennel. The measurement I am listening below in the recipe card is for the fennel already clean and cut, I used 3 bulbs and before cleaning they weighed 1.4kg (about 3 lb).

For the cheesy texture I used Asiago cheese, but any melty cheese will do the trick. Gouda, Emmental, Cheddar, Fontina, to name a few. Then used also some parmigiano reggiano, feel free to swap it for parmesan, pecorino, etc.

for the topping

The wonderful golden brown and crispy topping was prepared with italian breadcrumbs which you can easily substitute with Panko.

Also added some walnuts which gave the topping a very nice touch of flavour and crunchiness. Use any nuts you have on hand, like hazelnuts, almonds, pecans or even pistachios!

Butter and parmigiano reggiano where added to the mix to enhance the flavour and help with the beautiful brown color.

Ingredients for the topping displayed on a marble surface.

How To Make It

cook the fennel

Cut the stalks and fronds off the fennel then cut the bulbs into wedges. Using the tip of a knife discard carefully the core.

Showing how to cut fennel bulbs.

Place a large pot with water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add salt then the fennel. Boil for about 10 minutes or until the fennel bulbs are tender but not mushy. Drain and place in a bowl. Set aside.

Cooking fennel wedges into boiling water and then draining with a spoon.

make the topping

In a small bowl put the breadcrumbs, parmigiano cheese, chopped walnuts and melted butter. Mix until combined and set aside.

preparing the topping.

make the besciamella sauce

In a large pot heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and stir until they start to brown. Melt butter in and then add the flour stirring vigorously until brown.

frying shallots then stirring in flour.

Pour in the milk, then season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Whisk until combined. Add the stock and keep whisking until the sauce thickens (see the video).

cooking besciamella sauce and showing the consistency.

Turn off heat then add the cheeses, stir to combine and adjust with salt and pepper. Add the fennel and mix to coat.

assemble and bake

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350F).

Pour the fennel mixture into a casserole dish and gently press a bit to fill well. Sprinkle with the topping mixture and bake for about 25 minutes or until bubbling and the topping starts to brown.

fennel bake dish ready for the oven, before baking.

Watch The Video

More Italian Side Dishes

Italian Fennel Bake (finocchi gratinati)

A scrumptiously creamy italian fennel bake with tons of flavour thanks to the bechamel sauce savoured with shallots and nutmeg. To complete, the crunchy topping with walnuts is to die for!
PREP 25 minutes
COOK 35 minutes
TOTAL 1 hour
No ratings yet
Print Pin Rate
Servings: 4
Author: Maricruz

Ingredients 

For the bechamel sauce

  • 50 gr (⅓ cup) flour
  • 500 ml (2 cups) milk
  • 50 gr (4 tbsp) butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 250 ml (1 cup) vegetable stock
  • 2 shallots (finely chopped)
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • salt & pepper

For the bake

  • 900 gr (2 lb) fennels, cleaned and cut into wedges
  • 100 gr (1 cup) Asiago cheese , shredded
  • 50 gr (½ cup) parmigiano cheese, grated
  • salt

For the topping

  • 35 gr (¼ cup) italian breadcrumbs
  • 1 ½ tbsp parmigiano cheese (grated)
  • 2 tbsp walnuts (chopped)
  • 20 gr (1 tbsp) butter (melted)

Instructions

COOK THE FENNEL

  • Cut the stalks and fronds off the fennel then cut the bulbs into wedges. Using the tip of a knife discard carefully the core.
  • Place a large pot with water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add salt then the fennel. Boil for about 10 minutes or until the fennel bulbs are tender but not mushy.

MAKE THE TOPPING

  • In a small bowl put the breadcrumbs, parmigiano cheese, chopped walnuts and melted butter. Mix until combined and set aside.

MAKE THE BESCIAMELLA SAUCE

  • In a large pot heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and stir until they start to brown. Melt butter in and then add the flour stirring vigorously until brown.
  • Pour in the milk, then season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Whisk until combined. Add the stock and keep whisking until the sauce thickens (see the video).
  • Turn off heat then add the cheeses, stir to combine and adjust with salt and pepper. Add the fennel and mix to coat.

ASSEMBLE AND BAKE

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C (350F).
  • Place the fennel mixture into a casserole dish and gently press a bit to fill well. Sprinkle with the topping mixture and bake for about 25 minutes or until bubbling and the topping starts to brown.
Nutrition
Serving: 1grams
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