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Parmesan Fennel Gratin

The Challenge:

This week, to be kind to ourselves during Thanksgiving prep, we had just one recipe: Parmesan Fennel Gratin, which you can find here or on page 176 of Foolproof.

Mary's Take:

Well, how was everyone's Thanksgiving? Sucked, right? We are usually a giant Titas (et al.) clan of 40-50 people and it's the best holiday. [Lea: My favorite.] Long ago, we cousins would hang out after our parents left for the night...we went to movies [Lea: Before 21.] or bars [Lea: After 21.] or stayed late playing games and helping our aunt and uncle put their house back together. Sometime during those years, we also took over the kitchen cleanup which, as you can imagine, is a big task with that many people. We put on some music (Lea even has a special Thanksgiving Spotify playlist) [Lea: Here y'all go - enjoy!] and have a whole cleaning crew of washers, dryers, food putter awayers, trash taker outers and dessert and coffee servers (and singers and dancers). It's the best part of the night and something I look forward to each year. [Lea: Same.]

But not this year. This year, we celebrated dampandemic-style, with just our immediate family doing a pick up of food and back to respective houses to eat. We may or may not have had a glass of wine together during pickup (it was also our brother, Dean's, birthday, after all!). Lea and Josh made sausage stuffing and corn soufflé. Mom made mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Dean and Megs brought the sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, and pumpkin cheesecake (which is to-die-for good). And I made turkey, green beans, a sad version of our grandmother's stuffing, and the parmesan fennel gratin.

This recipe, where the fennel is braised in chicken broth and white wine, then sprinkled with a panko-parmesan topping, is an easy one. The hardest part is cutting the fennel bulbs into wedges...and even that's not a challenge.

Wedge the wedges in a casserole dish, pour over the chicken stock and wine, then dot with butter.

Cover and bake until the fennel is tender. While that's happening, make the topping.

I'm fairly certain everything is better with a breadcrumb topping. And this one makes LOTS and LOTS of that crunchy goodness.

As it baked, the house smelled like a sausage pizza.

Lea's Take:

I have nothing more to share. I had never made fennel before (surprise!) but agreed, it was an easy recipe. Since I had never made fennel [Mary: I never did before I started making Barefoot Contessa recipes, either.], I didn't know what was edible and what wasn't. Like, it looks like Mary used the entire wedge, where I removed the first couple layers as it looked like part of the core. Eh, whatever. [Mary: I think I removed it all? Maybe not.]

The Verdict:

Mary: As we've mentioned before, that licorice-y taste of fennel softens and sweetens when the fennel is cooked. The topping gets lovely and crisp and some of the bottom layers of the fennel caramelize. Don't you want to just pick at those stuck-to-the-dish bits?

There is an issue with this recipe, though: it's super salty. It calls for 2 teaspoons of kosher salt sprinkled over the fennel as it braises, then another teaspoon in the topping. That's a whole tablespoon for the entire recipe. Combined with the parmesan, it's just too much. I'll definitely make this again, but will cut the salt by half for sure.

Lea: I agree with Mary, this was crazy salty. But the crispy parmesan topping was great. Once we took our required bite of fennel, we all agreed it was inedible, but I kept picking at the crust.

Josh: I've never had fennel before. Don't salt it next time.

Mr. Good Eater: It ain't it, bro.

Mr. Picky Pants: (took one look at it and shook his head no)

Here's how the Titas Family Thanksgiving ended this everyone else's. The other dampandemic issue this year? No one to help clean up. Good thing for Lea's playlist.

Tune in next week for beets and prunes! Yum?

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Dec 02, 2020

I'm with Mr picky pants on this one 😜 Can't do anything remotely tasting of licorice!

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