Friday, July 20, 2007

FENNEL AND TOMATO GRATIN

At the farmer's market last week, as he was packing my bag of fennel, the farmer asked: "What will you DO with this much fennel?"
"Put it in a casserole, or braise it, or roast it," I told him.
"Oh!" (not convinced). "I never know what to do with it!"

Fennel is one of those strange vegetables that most people despise or don't know what to do with, I think. I am always frustrated when we receive just one bulb in our vegetable box. What are you supposed to do with just one? Roast it with peppers and onions and it kind of fades into the background. I want to taste the fennel in whatever-it-is, and it deserves to be the star. So here it is. We gobbled this up and now I'll have to make a quick trip to the market for more.

3 large bulbs fennel, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 large tomatoes, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup vegetable stock
1 slice fresh white bread
1tbsp finely grated parmesan

Warm up the oil in a large pan, over a gentle heat, and then arrange the fennel so it fits neatly in one layer, if possible. Put the lid on, leave the heat low, and allow it to start to soften and brown slowly. After about 10 minutes add the garlic, stir a couple of times, then add the tomatoes in one layer on top. Season with plenty of pepper and a little salt, then pour on the stock. Cover tightly, turn the heat to its lowest, and leave to bubble gently for another 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool. There should only be a little liquid left.

Tip the whole lot into a small baking dish, then chop the bread into crumbs, mix it with the parmesan, and sprinkle over the top. Bake at 160 degrees C for about 20 minutes, or until piping hot and crusty on top.

Serve with roasted red potatoes and red onions, and salad
if you like a bit of green.