This is one of the good old family favourites. A dish that I first cooked about 25 years ago. I recall going to the local green grocer's shop in Union Road, Ascot Vale and seeing these wonderful bulbs of fennel for 20c each. I couldn't resist a bargain and so took some home. Then, to find a suitable recipe. Back then, my Magimix was my first love, having bought her in 1978, she had provided me with many a great meal.
I had a recipe book called "The Magimix and food processor cookery book" by Marika Hanbury Tenison that came to the rescue. The author has written a few cookbooks and while still a student back in the 70's (my God how bloody old am I??) I had purchased her "Left Over for Tomorrow" cook book. Ahh, the memories of resurrecting the night before's meal and producing a "feast" that others would consume, and relish.
Back to the task at hand before the Alzheimer's sets in. MHT's Magimix book had a reecipe for "Baked Fennel with Tomatoes. It was described as "A deliciously rich vegetable dish that I often serve as a first course." It didn't read as anything wonderful, but I made it.
Wow - it really is something else. The strong fennel flavour that many do not like was almost not present, but a deliciously rich vegetable dish that I have now often made for first course. The crust on top is a winner with the combination of breadcrumbs, garlic, Parmesan and lemon zest.
I have made the dish from memory for some time now, having lost the book, but when I made it last week I decided that I should try to find a similar recipe to refer to for this blog. There it was. In "Grower's Market, cooking with seasonal produce", a Murdoch book that Leanne Kitchen edited, was the very recipe.
"The Magimix and food processor cookery book" has lots of recipes that could easily be adapted for the Thermomix and so I decided to go ahunting. Having seen Johanna's report of a Vintage Cookbook store, that was my first stop. Surprise, surprise, Barbara had not one but a choice of 4 copies - so my replacement copy arrived today.
Please try the dish - the original used the slicing blades in the Magimix for the onions and fennel. The Thermomix just dices/chops, but the result is just as good as the fennel eventually just melts down in the cooking. It is important not to overprocess the fennel as you need some texture.
Thermomix Fennel & Tomato Gratin
50 g parmesan cheese, cut into 1 cm cubes
Grated rind of 1/2 medium lemon (you can grate in the TMX)
1 garlic clove
75 g fresh white bread, crusts removed, partially frozen
1 large brown onion, quartered
1 MC (100ml) olive oil
1 kg (approx 2 large or 4 small) fennel bulbs
400 g tomatoes, peeled (or 1 can, drained)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Grease an ovenproof serving dish.
Place parmesan in TM bowl and grate for 15 seconds on speed 8. Remove and set aside. Without washing bowl, add garlic clove and chop for 5 seconds on speed 7. Add bread to TM bowl roughly broken up and grate for 15 seconds on speed 8. Mix breadcrumbs and garlic with parmesan and lemon zest and leave this gratin topping aside.
Place onion into TM bowl and chop for 10 seconds on speed 7, scraping down the onion after 5 seconds and then again when chopped sufficiently. Add the oil and cook for 3 minutes at 100°C on speed 1.
While the onion is cooking, remove the tough outer leaves and green tips from the fennel (the tips can be used for decoration), then chop into pieces approximately 3cm x 3cm. Once the onion has sautéed, add the fennel. Chop for 10 seconds on speed 7. Check the progress and scrape down the sides. Repeat for another 5 seconds on speed 7. You need to have small pieces about the size of small peas. Cook the onion & fennel mix for 10 minutes at 100°C on speed 1. Once the fennel is cooked it should be softened and golden brown.
Place the tomatoes in the TM bowl with the onion and fennel. Cook for 5 minutes at 100°C on speed 1, or until the tomato is softened. Add oregano and season with salt & pepper. Pour into the serving dish. Sprinkle the gratin topping over the vegetables and bake for 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and crisp.