Fennel Parmesan {Finocchi alla Parmigiana}


Although I am not particularly fond of cold weather, I have to admit that I enjoy seeing new fall and winter vegetables show up at our local markets and grocery stores as the temperatures drop. Here in Umbria, vegetable availability is seasonal, and this week I finally found cima di rape along with winter squash in my local grocery store. Fennel is one vegetable that is more readily available throughout the summer, but being a fall vegetable it can now be found on sale just about everywhere at a very affordable price. If you are not familiar with fennel, it is a celery-like bulb, which has a unique, subtle licorice flavor, but when baked, the flavor mellows out leaving a very delicious flavor. We love eating it raw as a snack, but it is also wonderful roasted as in my Fennel With Béchamel Sauce With Parmesan or simple Baked Fennel.

fennelLast year when we were closing up our two houses here in Umbria before leaving for the season, I sent my husband down to our local butcher in Collepepe to pick up something for Sunday lunch. As well as being a butcher shop, they are also a rosticceria, selling prepared meals and roasted meats. My husband brought back a few selections for us to enjoy, but one I fell in love with which was Finocchi all Parmagiana. I have since made this dish myself at home a number of times, but never managed to get the recipe posted on the blog until now. My local grocery store had fennel bulbs on sale for under a euro this week, so I knew I had to make Fennel Parmesan.

I think everyone is familiar with Eggplant Parmesan, and in fact, it is one of my favorite vegetarian entrees. While touring Corsica recently, I was also surprised to see Eggplant Parmesan on almost every restaurant menu. Fennel Parmesan is made almost exactly like you would prepare the eggplant version except for the fact that you blanch the fennel before layering it with tomato sauce and cheese. If you are not worried about keeping this dish vegetarian, it is also great layered with a tomato sauce made with sausage which creates a heartier dish. This dish freezes well, and the leftovers are even better the second day when reheated. This dish is also a good option when you need something to prepare ahead of time as the casserole can be completely assembled in the morning, and then baked later in the day before serving. I used five small to medium sized fennel bulbs in this recipe, but the amount does not have to be exact as you are simply layering the fennel with sauce and cheese.

Buon Appetito!
Deborah Mele 2015

Fennel Parmesan {Finocchi alla Parmigiana}

Ingredients:

  • 5 Medium Sized Fennel Bulbs
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Small Onion, Peeled & Diced
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, Peeled & Minced
  • 2 (14 Ounce) Cans Chopped Tomatoes
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Hot Red Pepper Flakes (Optional)
  • 1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Fresh Parsley Leaves
  • 3 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Fresh Basil
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste
  • 1 Cup Diced Mozzarella Cubes
  • 1 1/2 Cups Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Cheese

Directions:

  1. To prepare the fennel bulbs, first cut off the tops, then cut in half.
  2. Use a sharp knife to cut out the core section, then cut into slices lengthwise about 1/3 inch thick.
  3. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil, and then add the fennel and cook just until fork tender, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Drain the fennel and set aside.
  5. Add the oil to a pot over medium heat and once lightly smoking add the onions.
  6. Cook the onions, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add the garlic, and cook just until fragrant, an additional minute or two.
  8. Add the tomatoes, oregano, red pepper flakes (if using), parsley, basil, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
  9. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  10. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  11. In a large 13 x 9 oven-proof casserole dish, spread half the fennel over the bottom.
  12. Spoon enough sauce just to cover, then scatter half the diced mozzarella and grated cheese on top.
  13. Add the rest of the fennel, then cover with the sauce and remaining cheese.
  14. Bake the casserole for 35 to 40 minutes or until it is bubbly and growing on top.
  15. Let rest 10 minutes, then serve.