As you may know, last Thursday I went all the way to Giudecca to do my weekly shopping, precisely to Fondamenta Sant'Eufemia to the organic market offered by the Orto delle Meraviglie (more on food shopping in Giudecca HERE) and among the many things I bought, there were some fennels. The same evening we had friends over so I served them gratin as side dish and it was so appreciated that I decided to share the recipe on the blog.
Fennels are an amazing food, with a lovely fresh aftertaste. Of the same family of carrots, every part of the plant is used: the bulb, the seeds, the stalk and the leaves. I eat them a lot because, like celery, they are very easy to digest, low in calories and rich in nutrients, especially fiber, potassium and vitamin C. Now you can find them all year round, but the best season goes from June to the end of September.
When you buy fennels, make sure the leaves are bright green and, if possible, choose the younger bulbs, which are a bit softer. Personally, I store them in the fridge separating the branches from the bulb. Generally I use my greens within a few days, thus I avoid plastic bags, but if you need them to last longer consider vacuum sealing them.
With regard to milk, not being a dietitian I cannot say whether whole or skim is healthier. Personally I use whole milk, but I think that as long as you buy organic or, anyway, a good quality fresh milk it's more than fine! The only thing I feel to underline is to buy whole pieces of Parmesan and not pre-grated packs! Parmesan -the original one- is very rich in protein, vitamins and minerals (especially calcium and phosphorus), containing only 30% of water, it's completely natural and is a great ally if, like me, you practice a lot of physical exercise.
I chose to replace breadcrumbs with taralli because they are already salted and crunchier than bread; they absorb all the liquid but remain thicker and combined with the pistachios they really add a special touch to the dish. In case you didn't know, taralli are a sort of round cracker similar to breadsticks but made with the addition of olive oil, typical of the region Puglia. You can find them aromatised with fennel seeds but, for this recipe, it's better to use the plain ones.
Due to their high cost, I tend to buy shelled pistachios, but if you prefer to buy them already unshelled, just make sure they haven't been dyed.
I suppose that now we're ready to cook!
The preparation is very easy, less than 10 minutes of work and then the oven does the rest. Let me know what you think.
GRATIN FENNELS WITH TARALLI AND PISTACHIOS
INGREDIENTS (Serves 4)
1 cup whole milk
30 crushed pistachios
3/4 crushed taralli
extra virgin olive oil
1) Preheat oven at 180°.
2) Wash the fennels and remove bottom. Slice in half lengthwise and then chop.
3) Put the fennels directly in your baking pan and grease them with some extra virgin olive oil, mixing them using your hands.
4) On a chopping board, crush 3/4 taralli and about 30 crushed pistachios. Grate some Parmesan and keep aside.
5) Now put most of the crushed taralli and pistachio mixture over the fennels and mix with your hands. Add a little bit of Parmesan then pour about a cup of milk (it should cover the fennels).
6) Add the remaining mixture, cover with Parmesan and bake for about 40/50 minutes in the oven, putting the grill mode for the last 10/15 minutes (depending on your oven!)