We used to make a version of this using plenty of butter and lashings of cream.  Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, but for me at least, too rich to eat more than once in a blue moon.  I’ve been wanting for a while now to try a pared-down version, using less dairy.  Well, I finally got around to it, and I think it was great – steaming the fennel before it goes in the oven guarantees that each piece cooks down to succulent, juicy perfection.  The shallots add little bursts of sweetness and the parmesan crust adds just enough contrast in texture and taste (I kept the cheese pretty minimal – I bet it would be good with even more…)

I add fennel seeds because I love aniseedy flavours and tend to find myself trying to boost, rather than subdue them.  Cooking fennel like this turns the volume down on that taste that I enjoy so much – which for some would probably be a good thing – but I like to put some back with the seeds.  Other than that I keep the flavours simple, just adding garlic, black pepper, a little nutmeg, and some lemon zest.  This makes a surprisingly filling main, but I think would be even better as a side dish to a good sausage or two!




3 large fennel bulbs

200g shallots, peeled but left whole

2 cloves garlic, finely sliced

2 tsp. veg bouillon/chicken stock cube

150ml milk

30g parmesan, finely grated

1 tbsp. fennel seeds

A grating of nutmeg

Black pepper

A little lemon zest




Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Trim the fennel fronds from the bulbs, setting aside for later.  Leaving the base of the fennel intact (it will ensure that the layers hold together) cut the fennel into wedges.  Steam for about ten minutes or so, until it starts to soften.

Arrange the fennel in an ovenproof dish, sprinkling the garlic over and inbetween the pieces.  Wedge in the shallots into the gaps.  Sprinkle over the fennel seeds, then season with plenty of cracked black pepper, and a couple of gratings of nutmeg.

Gently heat the milk, dissolving the bouillon or stock cube in it.  Pour over the fennel, then cover the dish and bake for about thirty minutes, until both the fennel and shallots are tender.  Scatter the parmesan evenly over the top, add a little pepper if you like, then allow to bake uncovered until the cheese starts to turn golden brown.  Just before serving, grate over a little lemon zest and sprinkle with the fennel fronds.






  1. This looks wonderful. Sadly, I am the only person in the family who really loves fennel, so all I can do is look and long for the day someone else can join in the fun.

    1. That’s a shame! I wonder if a fennel hater can be turned into a fennel lover, somehow…

  2. The combination of fennel and shallots sounds great!

    1. Yeah, I loved the sweetness of the shallots amongst the silky fennel. Lovely!

  3. Something innovative:)

  4. I’m going to have to make this – I love fennel and shallots and always looking for more reasons to subject my family to fennel 🙂

    1. I hope both you and they enjoy it!

  5. Mmmmmm….I like that! Looks good 🙂

  6. I love fennel and we eat it a lot, most usually raw in a salad these day though. I do love a fennel gratin and love the way you have reduced the richness. I tend to sub half fat creme fraiche for cream and feel quite virtuous but this is much better!

    1. Thanks Selma. I like the idea of using crème fraiche for a creamy version if in the mood!

  7. Oh, that looks like pure heaven to me! LOVE fennel!

    1. Me too, I don’t think I could ever get bored of it!

  8. Very nice…love the flavours…brilliance x

    1. Thanks Dimple!

  9. This looks delicious. I love how you’ve cut down on the heavy dairy – and calories! A great way to highlight the veg.

  10. Yum. Fennel really is an amazing palette to experiment with. I like using saffron or curry over fennel bulbs. This looks wonderful with the cheese, lemon and milk. Amazing.

    1. I’ve never used saffron with fennel, but I like that idea! I’m thinking tagine, perhaps… And I like to make a fennel and chicken curry, but never thought of prioritising the fennel itself, I like that…

  11. I agree with you, I think adding the seeds is a great idea. Your gratin sounds terrific.

  12. Reblogged this on Gluten Free Fabulous and commented:
    I tried this for dinner tonight and thought it was wonderful! I’ve tried several recipes from here and have enjoyed them all.

  13. fennel haters are easily turned into lovers. this would probably be one of those recipes. i make people love fennel by braising it in hot olive oil, with chili flakes and anchovies. But my real claim to fame with fennel is my short ribs: http://wineatthefinishline.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/vynecrest-chambourcin-braised-short-ribs-with-danish-bleu-polenta/

    btw — this recipe…is all of my favorite things together — fennel, shallot, dairy…i will be making this soon.

    1. Mmm, I love the idea of chilli flakes and anchovies. I hope you enjoy this recipe! Just heading over for a look at yours…

  14. MyKabulKitchen · · Reply

    Looks like a delicious and unique side-dish 🙂

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