Creamy Fennel Gratin with Garlicky Breadcrumbs
Cooking lesson: A gratin is a dish that is topped with breadcrumbs (or cheese, or both) mixed with bits of butter, then baked until brown, bubbling and crisp. If it sounds like a fancy, French way of describing a type of casserole, well, it kind of is. If you need even more definitive proof that casseroles can be classy, make this recipe for creamy fennel gratin with garlicky breadcrumbs at your next holiday gathering. It’s decadent, but a fresh, licorice-y bite from the fennel that reminds you it counts as a vegetable.
2 large fennel bulbs, cored and thinly sliced lengthwise
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, peeled, divided
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, divided
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups panko breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Place the fennel in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Thinly slice 1 garlic clove and add to the bowl, along with 1 tablespoon of the thyme and the heavy cream. Toss to coat, then pour into a 2-quart baking dish. Dot all over with the butter. Transfer to the oven and bake until the cream is bubbly and very thick, 35 to 40 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, remaining 1 tablespoon thyme, oil and salt and pepper to taste. Using a microplane, grate in the remaining 2 garlic cloves. Stir to combine until the mixture is uniformly moist.
4. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture in an even layer over the fennel, then return to the oven and bake until tender and golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes more.