Fennel Baked in Cream

Chef Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune restaurant in New York turned us on to this simple, classic Italian preparation. Baking fennel in the oven with cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese makes for a luxurious gratin with a delectable caramelized top.–James Oseland

LC Spoiler Alert Note

No fewer than 13 of our testers–a baker’s dozen–rushed to make this simple, satiating, stunning side dish. And then promptly gushed, raved, and waxed poetic about it. If you aren’t quite convinced this fennel baked in cream recipe belongs on your table, but you are the type who doesn’t mind a movie review giving away the ending, by all means, skip ahead and read the reviews below the recipe before making it. But bear in mind, it’ll just delay your gratification.

Fennel Baked in Cream Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 10 M
  • 1 H, 45 M
  • Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds (about 2 large bulbs) fennel, stalks removed, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch wide wedges
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Directions

  • 1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C).
  • 2. In a bowl, toss together the fennel, cream, and 1 cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a 3-quart baking dish and dot with as much or as little of the butter as you wish, depending on how rich a dish you prefer. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 1 hour.
  • 3. Uncover the baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Continue baking, uncovered, until tender and the surface is well browned, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

In Advance Advice

  • You can assemble the ingredients in the baking dish, cover, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. (Hey, every minute matters!)
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Jane R.

Dec 08, 2011

This was just so lovely. From the cream to the fennel to the crispy Parmesan on top! I loved it! It was great, and I will make it again and again! I actually used some light cream, as that what I had in the house, it worked great and I felt a little better for it :) I had some excellent Parm, and that made this dish just extra special!

Testers Choice
S. Kim

Dec 08, 2011

Butter, cream, cheese, what’s not to like? I wondered how this would go, having made many vegetable gratins. This is slightly different as it doesn’t call for a béchamel and is more elemental. I’m more used to eating fennel raw, but it cooks wonderfully and has a gentle flavor that those who might not like it raw could enjoy. My only caveat is that the dish doesn’t reheat all that well — the butterfat separates out, whereas freshly made, the cream and cheese make for a lovely, velvety sauce. I baked mine for slightly longer to get a thicker consistency to the cream/cheese mixture. A wide pan is a good idea for baking this, and it needs a good amount of salt, even with all the Parmesan.

Testers Choice
Debra K.

Dec 08, 2011

This recipe is meant for six to eight. We ended up devouring it just between the two of us. It was that good. I was initially hesitant about the proportions — anything over a stick of butter or a cup of cream I usually avoid. But this dish is entirely worth the indulgence. The cream is less stodgy than using a béchamel, and it bakes down into the most ethereal custard. I forgot the butter topping, and the dish didn’t seem to suffer from the lack. The only adjustment I’d make would be on temperature. I ended up with a rim of carbonized cream; maybe lower to 400°. Otherwise, I can’t wait to make it again, and perhaps try it out with leeks.

Testers Choice
Cindy Zaiffdeen

Dec 08, 2011

What can I say — this dish is outstanding! You don’t need a lot of ingredients to make a delicious dish. Even those who think they don’t like fennel will fall in love with this one. The flavor of the fennel really mellows during the baking in the cream and Parmesan bath. The fennel gets very tender and the top turns a beautiful golden color. I will be making this one for Christmas dinner! Be warned though: when warming up the leftovers — if there are any — the cream turns to butter and melts.

Testers Choice
Sofia Reino

Dec 08, 2011

The reason this recipe attracted me is that for years I have been trying to get my family to enjoy fennel as I do. Well, this made it happen. Everyone absolutely loved the taste of this creamy, soft side dish. We served it with a broiled chicken and there was no need for further sides. The fennel melted in one’s mouth, and the cheese just enhanced the whole experience. My only comment is I would forego the butter next time, as I do not really think it is needed. Both the cream and the cheese already have their own fat.

Testers Choice
Anna Scott

Dec 08, 2011

My dinner guests and I all felt very Italian eating this deliciously creamy dish! Everyone at the table loved this dish, and I loved it as the cook, as well, since it was so easy to prepare. The anise flavor of the fennel worked really well with the cream and saltiness of the Parmesan cheese. My only comment on the recipe itself is that the ingredient listing for the Parmesan cheese should read “1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided.” If I hadn’t read the recipe closely before cooking, I might have put the entire 1 1/2 cups of cheese in with the fennel and cream, not saving any for the top. In terms of salt, I would use caution with adding it, since there is already so much saltiness in the cheese — I used about 1/4 teaspoon, and that worked well. I would definitely serve this dish on its own plate; we put it as a side dish on a plate with beef tenderloin, and it was so creamy it slowly started taking over the entire plate! (No complaints though, the more creamy fennel on the plate, the better!) I will definitely be making this dish again.

Testers Choice
Karen Depp

Dec 08, 2011

Flavorful fennel — what could be better? Fennel baked in cream and Parmigiano is the best you can get! Easy to put together, and it bakes alongside whatever else you need to have in the oven. Golden on top, smooth, creamy and rich underneath that crust! And all of that along with eating your vegetables too! Fantastic.

Testers Choice
Jackie G.

Dec 08, 2011

WOW! This is sinfully delicious. It is rich and luxurious. It is easy as can be to make. It can be scaled up and back without even thinking, A little does go a long way. I will definitely be making this again and again, but I will scale back the recipe if there are just the two of us. Leftovers were very good, but not quite as wonderful as eating the dish right away. A great dish to wow company with. A great dish if you want something comforting or just something extra special, without much effort.

Testers Choice
Angie Hsing

Dec 08, 2011

This was so easy to make and a lovely side dish to the roast chicken. I have not cooked much with fennel, but I loved the flavors of the slight sweet and licorice mixed with the cream and cheese. Not very healthy but worth the calories!

Testers Choice
Jo Ann Brown

Dec 08, 2011

Every holiday that I host, I am determined to substitute an age-old favorite with something new. My goal is to create new traditions. I want my family to associate my table with new essences — something special. Trust me, I don’t take away the beloved (hell has no fury as to not serve mashed potatoes on a holiday — my sister in-law learned the hard way) but I do a switcheroo on a traditional dish that’s ho-hum. This year I am incorporating this recipe. It’s delicious and now it’s “all mine”. Baked fennel would be divine with prime rib on Christmas or New Year’s Eve. You’ll find that the edges get quite caramelized. Let it be, this is not a mistake. I actually really like the dark edges around the sides of the casserole dish, and it makes the overall flavor three-dimensional.

Testers Choice
Chiyo Ueyama

Dec 08, 2011

First of all, this gratin would not serve eight people. I think six is the max, four if everyone is like me who adore all things creamy, cheesy and bubbly. I read the recipe and wondered if the fennel slices would cook down to mushy nothingness after 1 1/2 hours in the oven at a rather high temperature, and if the wonderful anise aroma would be overpowered by all that cream and cheese. Well, my pre-trial concerns were blown away when I saw and tasted the end result. It had all the qualities I had wanted: hearty, creamy, fragrant, tender, and golden. The fennel wedges held their shape beautifully, and that unique flavor was still there, packed in each layer of the bulb. What a relief. Some people might find this dish too rich, though. If I were to omit anything from the recipe for such guests, it would be the butter, as I suspect the gratin would still brown nicely without it. Replacing half of the heavy cream with half & half or whole milk may be worth a try.

Testers Choice
Melissa Maedgen

Dec 08, 2011

This was not a quick dish, nor a low-fat one, but it was incredibly simple to make, and absolutely delicious. The fennel gets completely soft, and you get a nicely browned top. Classy enough to deserve a spot on your holiday table. In the future, I might use a bit less butter than the four tablespoons called for. I think half that would have been enough to dot over the top and encourage browning. With the full amount there were a few pools of butter. I also might add some crushed fennel seeds, to up the fennel flavor.

Testers Choice
Lisa O.

Dec 08, 2011

Not disappointed by this easy delicious recipe using delicious and unique fennel. If you have never tried it, it’s a great idea for a different side dish for the holiday. It is lovely with pork or poultry, even beef. This recipe works exactly as written — I made it a second time, and sautéed the cut-up fennel first with a little butter and white wine, just to get some of the liquid out of it to make the dish a little thicker, and it was perfect, and the grated Parmesan sits on top a little better instead of sinking somewhat. Either way works, and if you want the easiest, do the original.


Comments
Comments
  1. Jamie says:

    Ha! Indeed, a vehicle for tons of cream, butter, and Parmesan, but boy oh boy do I love fennel and this is fabulous! Side dish or meal in itself? Gorgeous!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Oh dear, do we have to choose between side dish or meal in itself?! It all depends on the day…

  2. Dana Horesh says:

    I made this dish and it was a HUGE hit. I got rave reviews from my guests (in their 50s and 60s) that it was the best meal they had ever eaten. Definitely a keeper!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      We loooooooove that sort of response, Dana. Looooooove it. Many thanks for sharing the compliments!

  3. Kelly Lott says:

    Yes, I’ve got to make this – love fennel! Looks terrific. (What a natural you are on camera David!)

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