A warm gratin is a bubbling dish of soothing comfort, with the magic all happening as it bakes and bubbles in the heat of the oven. And really, gratins are all about the ingredients, and the creaminess that binds them together; this one is simple as can be.
Thinly sliced ripe tomatoes are joined by the subtle anise notes of fennel, salty black olives, a dollop of crème fraiche and a good grating of Parmesan to top it all off.
A subtly sweet and silky tangle of fennel and cream provides a nice bed for the tomatoes to rest on. When baked together, the tiles of tomatoes soften and slump together just slightly under the heat, their flavor concentrating and intensifying.
After a brief steam (making it softer and less assertive than in raw form) the fennel cooks down even further into creamy pockets of sauce underneath the tomatoes. Crusty and golden brown, the Parmesan topping adds another layer of depth to the dish.
The seductively rich taste of the fennel baked in the creamy sauce is offset by the sweet acidity of the tomatoes and the brininess from the scattered bits of olives.
It’s surprisingly creamy yet light and well-suited for making the slow transition from summer to fall. It’s the kind of dish that will be making a frequent appearance at my dinner table on those sunny days followed by cool evenings as we head into the next season.
Serves Serves 4
The rich taste of fennel baked in a cream sauce is topped with tomatoes, scattered bits of olives and a good grating of Parmesan.
20 minPrep Time
35 minCook Time
- 4 or 5 small Roma tomatoes
- 1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs, stalks removed
- 2oz/ 56g crème fraiche
- 2 TB/30g of black olive tapenade (store bought or homemade)
- 1?2 cup/56g finely grated Parmesan (divided)
- A handful of fresh thyme leaves
- fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Slice tomatoes into 1/4-inch thick slices. If your tomatoes are very juicy, layer the tomato slices into a colander, sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and drain excess moisture from the tomatoes for 20 minutes.
- Trim fennel bulbs and halve lengthwise through the core, and thinly slice each half.
- Fit a pan with a steamer basket and several inches of water. Steam fennel for 8 to 10 minutes or until fennel is tender.
- In a bowl, toss together steamed fennel, crème fraiche, olive tapenade, half of the thyme leaves and Parmesan; season with salt and pepper.
- Butter the bottom of a small baking or gratin dish.
- Place fennel mixture at the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange the tomato slices over the fennel in overlapping rows. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan and thyme leaves.
- Bake at 35o for 20 to 25 minutes, uncovered until the cheese starts to brown and the gratin is bubbling. Let rest for about 5 minutes before serving.
Gluten Free, Grain Free, Vegetarian, Primal