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Friday
Mar272015

Fennel gratin with leeks and anchovies

Friday fun-day! Today I did my first live cooking demo at the Natoora shop in Turnham Green. And they call this work! Well, sign me up and call me ‘Chef’.

A month ago I started working for Natoora, the UK’s biggest importer and distributor of fine quality produce. Their main clients are restaurants - Ottolenghi, Heston, Gordon Ramsay, Alain Ducasse – you name them, Natoora supply to them. There’s also an online and retail shop where you can buy all manner of delicious things and then some.

In the last 4 weeks I have tried so many new varieties of fruit and vegetables that I am starting to lose count. Oranges? Yes. Tarocco oranges with a blush of pink – new favourite.  Tomatoes? Obviously. Danterini, Marinda and Iberico tomatoes – everyday please. Radicchio? Been there. Radicchio Triestino – just about the most beautiful vegetable I’ve ever seen:

When Jorge, the shop manager, found out I have food blog and love to cook he was really keen to get me into the shop to do a cooking demo. The recipe today was suggested by my colleague, Elisa, who gave me a rough outline. I just tinkered with the measurements and ingredients on the day.

It’s worth saying to those who still shudder at the ‘a’ word, that this dish really doesn't taste of anchovies. I didn't like them for years due to an early childhood memory where a delicious slice of pizza was tainted by an overwhelmingly salty and fishy mouthful of dreadfulness. I later discovered that as an ingredient in cooking you taste the salt not the fish. I like them enough now to eat them whole and on pizza, but they have to be good quality ones or I still shudder a little bit.

My colleague, Andrew, gave me some great advice, which was to cook the fennel in just enough water so that they are covered, rather than in loads of water. This is to concentrate the flavour.

This dish would work really well with fish or chicken. You could also add some herbs, e.g. dill or chives to go with fish or tarragon to go with chicken.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

Ingredients

3-4 fennel bulbs (approx. 1.8kg)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
75g butter
1 leek, trimmed and sliced into rounds
3 anchovies, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
100ml white wine
250ml double cream
50g parmesan, grated
Whole milk, as required 

Method

Preheat the oven at 180 degrees Celcius.

Wash and halve the fennels, removing the woody, leafy tops. Slice thinly lengthways (approx. 8mm thick), keeping the leaves attached to the core. Boil for 5 minutes in salted water with 25g of the butter (for flavour) until just tender. Season with salt and pepper and toss. 

Melt the rest of the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat. Add the anchovies and leeks and sweat for a few minutes or until softened, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and sweat for another minute. 

Turn the heat up and add the wine. Let it to bubble and reduce until there is only a very small amount of liquid left. Take off the heat and season with a little salt and pepper.

Arrange the leek mix and fennel in layers in an oven dish. When you have filled half the dish, pour on the cream and sprinkle on half of the parmesan. When you have used all the vegetables, pour on the rest of the cream and top up with milk, if required. The liquid should come about 3/4 of the way up.

Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until bubbling and golden on top.

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Reader Comments (5)

Was a pleasure to have you in the shop. You're a true star and yes, I want more please! :)

March 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJorge Santos

Thanks for the comment Jorge. Very sweet of you. I look forward to the next cooking demo :-)

March 28, 2015 | Registered CommenterVix

Hi Vix, I never think I like fennel until I eat it. This really sounds delicious. I will try it very soon.

March 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMa

I can't wait to try this Vicky. It looks and sounds superb.

March 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPamela Sinclair

Hi Ma, fennel is so wonderful and versatile. I am eating it all the time at the moment; raw in salads, as soup, in gratin, roasted... I hope you like the gratin.

Hi Pam, thanks for the comment. I am sure you will love it :-)

March 31, 2015 | Registered CommenterVix

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