Creamy Braised Fennel & J.Q. Dickinson Salt Giveaway

Thanksgiving is a no-B.S. holiday and is, by far, my favorite of the year. There’s no going into debt to buy expensive gifts, no annoying jingles or flashing lights, and the traffic around shopping centers is relatively normal. It’s just about food, family, and friends. 

I also love that it’s a time when everyone flexes their culinary muscles. There’s passionate debate about the best way to brine a turkey and people don’t hesitate to spend a little more time and money on food. And it's perfectly appropriate to eat until you explode. In short, it’s the perfect holiday.

My family always does a potluck Thanksgiving, where the host prepares the turkey and the relatives bring the sides. This year, I’m contributing creamy braised fennel. 

Even if you think you don’t like fennel, you’ll love this dish. It's slowly braised in cream, which mellows its strong licorice flavor to the point where it's hardly detectable. After an hour in the oven, the fennel is fork tender. The mild herbal flavor of the fennel balances the dish's richness, and a generous topping of toasted pita adds crunch. It’s simply delicious, and would be a unique addition to your spread.

Speaking of potlucks, Renee from the gorgeous blog, Will Frolic for Food, organized a blogger Friendsgiving. A group of us brought our best Thanksgiving recipes to this virtual potluck. I’ve discovered many talented new bloggers and have been drooling over their dishes for the last couple days. 

Also, the fine people of J.Q. Dickson Salt-Works provided us with some really special salt to use in our recipes. This family run business harvests their salt from an ancient ocean trapped underneath the Appalachian mountains. They also gave us an extra jar to give away - so ENTER TO WIN BELOW!

Creamy Braised Fennel 

(Serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

  • 4 fennel bulbs (about 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons fennel fronds for garnish 
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 2 cups half & half (warmed)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 cloves of sliced garlic 
  • Zest of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper to taste (I used 20 turns of the pepper mill)
  • 3/4 cup crushed plain pita chips
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the long stocks from the fennel so only the white bulb is remaining. Trim about 2 tablespoons of the feathery green fennel fronds and reserve for garnish. Cut funnel bulbs in half, from top to bottom, then cut the core out. Slice fennel into 3/4 inch slices. 

Line the bottom of a baking dish with a layer of fennel slices. Sprinkle with a 1/4 cup of shredded mozzarella. Top with another layer of fennel and sprinkle an additional 1/4 cup of cheese. Top with a final layer of fennel (3 layers total).

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and whisk for about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the warmed half and half (I heated it in the microwave for about a minute) and chicken stock. Add parmesan, garlic, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Continue to whisk, and simmer for about 8 minutes, or until it thickens. 

Pour the creamy sauce over the fennel and bake for 40 minutes. While the fennel bakes, place pita chips in a large plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin (a food processor will also work). Place crushed chips in a bowl and drizzle in olive oil. Mix so all the crumbs are coated and spread onto a cookie sheet. You can bake this in the oven with the fennel (350 degrees) for about 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside.

After the fennel has baked for 40 minutes, top with the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella. Bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with the toasted pita chips. Garnish with fennel fronds.