This creamy fennel gratin with cheese sauce is a simple to prepare but very sophisticated looking side dish that tastes just as amazing as it looks.
The fennel, which takes on a pasta-like consistency when roasted, is swimming in a luscious cheese sauce with a beautiful golden crust that really gives you the feeling that you're eating a decadent pasta dish.
Fennel is a criminally underrated vegetable that features in many cuisines of the Mediterranean region (where fennel originates) and beyond. There are a lot of fun facts about fennel, including the fact that it's part of the carrot family - who knew.
This creamy cheesy fennel gratin puts the spotlight on an often under-appreciated vegetable: fresh fennel bulb.
The nice thing about a gratin is that it can be fairly simple. In principle you just need the chosen vegetable being used and the béchamel (or add cheese and it's a Mornay sauce).
- Fresh fennel bulbs
- Hard cheese like gruyere
Please see recipe card for quantities.
The only hands-on part of this recipe (besides cleaning and slicing the fennel) is making the béchamel. Making the béchamel is straightforward but you can see detailed information and troubleshooting tips in my post on making perfect bechamel.
Make a roux with the butter and flour.
Whisk the milk in.
Mix in salt, nutmeg and cheese.
Pour the cheese béchamel over the fennel in the roasting dish.
Any oven safe roasting dish will do.
I used a Staub cast iron oval roasting dish which is 24 cm / 9.4 inches at its longest point. It was just the right size with room to spare.
Storage & Reheating
Can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for 3-4 days. Best reheated in the oven at 175 C / 350 F for 10-15 minutes. Pro tip: sprinkle some more cheese on top to recreate the golden, caramelized crust.
You can also reheat in the microwave in a pinch.
Gratin is best served out of the oven. If it sits too long the béchamel eventually firms up.
When timing your meal, try to put the gratin in the oven 25-30 minutes before you intend to eat it. That way you can put it on the table when it's at its peak.
Looking for a dish to pair with this side? Try these:
Looking for other side dish recipes like this? Try these:
- 2 bulbs fennel tops cut off, sliced thinly
- 500 ml milk
- 45 grams butter
- 45 grams flour
- 100 grams gruyere
- 0.5 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 200 C / 390 C.
prepare the bechamel
- Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until melted and beginning to bubble.
- Add the flour and whisk together until it forms a consistent paste (the roux). Keep stirring the roux for 1-2 minutes to cook. It should begin to smell nutty.
- Pour the milk over the roux and whisk vigorously and consistently. The milk can be poured in either all at once or ⅓ at a time - both ways are fine.Keep whisking until the bechamel thickens (3-4 minutes). If lumpy, whisk more vigorously. See post for troubleshooting details.
- Stir in the gruyere and salt. Taste the béchamel and add more salt as needed, keeping in mind it will also need to be seasoned enough for the fennel too.
assemble the gratin
- Lay the fennel out in your roasting pan.
- Pour the béchamel over the squash fennel. You can also add a bit of cheese on top to make a cheesy crust (this is optional).
- Reduce the oven temperature to 180 C / 360 F before putting the gratin in.
- Bake for at least 30 minutes or until the top is golden. If it browns too much in some spots, reduce the heat and roast until an even golden brown.