I cooked this fennel and leek, sourdough gratin for my lunch last week after spotting some fat gorgeous bulbs of fennel at my local fruit store. I had half a loaf of wholemeal sourdough that needed using when it dawned on me it would be the perfect companion for the fennel. When the gratin came out of the oven I drizzled it with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled over some chopped parsley – it sure beat a boring sandwich!
Gratins are a wonderful invention and we can thank the French for them. The culinary term – gratin – takes an ingredient, bakes it in a shallow dish, then tops it with cheese, bread crumbs or cream, then it’s browned under a grill – marvellous!
Now, a good sourdough bread is important in this recipe. A white or a wholemeal may be used. I reckon rye bread would be pretty good too. Don’t waste the crusts, blitz them up also.
This gratin is just one way to enjoy the mild Mediterranean flavour of fennel. Fennel flavours soups, stews and sauces. It can be braised with wine and stock, shaved thinly and eaten raw in salads, wedges can be crumbed and fried – it’s just so versatile!
I’ve also cooked this gratin with Tuscan cabbage instead of leeks and quite liked the bitter edge the cabbage delivered. A generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil after the gratin comes out marries well with the wine and stock.
If you’re looking for a protein to serve alongside this fennel gratin, roast chicken is a good choice, as is a grilled fillet of white fish. Or try French lentils or chickpeas. Or simply do as I did and eat it on it’s own.
Fennel and leek sourdough gratin
1 large bulb fennel
1 large leek
1/2 bunch thyme, picked and chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups hot vegetable stock
1 punnet of grape or small cherry tomatoes
2 cups sourdough bread crumbs ( 2-3 slices sour dough bread)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Butter for greasing
Chopped parsley to garnish
Pre heat oven to 200C. Grease a 32cm shallow dish with butter. Halve leek and wash well. Slice into thin pieces and scatter over the bottom of the dish. Cut fennel into 1cm rounds, remove any thick inner woody pieces that look tough. Scatter fennel over leeks, sprinkle with chopped thyme, sea salt and cracked black pepper. Heat vegetable stock to boiling. Pour white wine and hot stock over fennel, cover with foil and bake in the oven for 50 – 60minutes.
Meanwhile, take 2-3 slices of sourdough bread, crusts and all, cut into small chunks then place in the food processor and blitz to a chunky crumb.
Remove foil and turn oven up the oven to 220C. Scatter the grape tomatoes evenly over the fennel, top with bread crumbs and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes or till cheese is golden.
Once out of the oven, sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.