potato and fennel gratin
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Aniseedy fennel with sliced potatoes, cream and cheese, in a bake/gratin/dauphinoise, whatever you want to call it. This is the ultimate autumn warmer but I can happily have it any time of year.
I have a feeling that anything can be tasty if buried under lots of cream, smothered with cheese and baked until bubbly. Potatoes dauphinoise lead this pack, the side dish so disgustingly rich and delicious it should really be pulled over to the centre from those side lines – although technically there is a difference between dauphinoise and gratin. Anything is gratineed if sprinkled with cheese and flashed under the grill while dauphinoise involves baking potatoes in the creamy sauce, not necessarily adding cheese to it.
‘Sauce’ is a little too much to say: it’s cream, in some recipes cream and milk, poured over potatoes so they cook slowly absorbing the liquid. I like not having to cook béchamel, which is completely boring, so much that I apply this technique to other delicious creamy bakes: moussaka, lasagne or fish pie. In some cases the double cream needs to be cooked down with appropriate seasoning, adding some cheese to the cream or not. This dish here is the former, dauphinoise type of bake: slice, pour over, bake. That’s the easiest and what everyone likes best.
I make this as a main course. As I say above, it is RICH. If you can manage a bowl of this and a quarter of a roast chicken without any adverse outcomes (bloating, weight gain, feeling too stuffed to speak etc.), I’m very pleased but it might be too much for many of us. A light green salad, a bowl of pickles or both alongside the gratin and no one will go hungry.
The potatoes on their own would make a wonderful dish – who doesn’t like creamy, cheesy potatoes? But the fennel makes it taste more sophisticated and relieves the weight of the starch somewhat. The sharper, aniseedy flavour is in good harmony with the scalloped spuds and fresh dill, a totally undervalued herb, goes well with both.
potato and fennel gratinServings: 2Time: about 2 hours
- 500g (just over a pound) potatoes, peeled
- 2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- salt and black pepper
- 100ml (2/3 cup) double cream
- 30g (2 tbsp.) grated Parmesan
- 50g (2 tbsp.) grated Cheddar or Gruyere
- ½ bunch fresh dill, finely chopped
1. Butter a gratin dish about 23 x 12cm (9 x 5 inch) or similar. preheat the oven to 210C/410F/gas 6.
2. Slice the potatoes thinly (2-3mm/ 1/8 inch), using a food processor, mandolin or very good knife skills. Slice the fennel as thinly, lengthwise. Slice the garlic cloves thinly. Place everything in a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper.
3. Pour the cream over the potatoes and fennel and sprinkle both cheeses and the dill. Mix thoroughly, best using your hands, so the potato slices are not sticking together and everything is coated in cream and cheese.
4. Transfer the mix into the prepared dish and press it in firmly; you can aim to finish with a layer of potatoes but it’s not essential. Bake for 1 hour 30 minutes, pressing the gratin down with a spatula once or twice as it’s baking.
5. When it’s deep golden and crisp on top, remove the gratin from the oven, let it stand for 10 minutes and serve, as a side dish or on its own with a green salad.