I’m not sure why fennel and leeks aren’t as popular in the U.S. as they are in Italy and France, but I’m doing my part here. My husband hadn’t really eaten either of them until he met me, even though he also grew up in an Italian-American family. Broccoli, peas and carrots were more his standard. But fennel is a vegetable that was always on my family’s table when I was growing up. I can remember many holidays when a stainless steel tray, piled with raw fennel, olives, celery and radishes, was served before the main event. We never ate fennel cooked when I was a child, but I’ve made up for that as an adult. It’s one of my favorite vegetables and I’ve been eating it topped with gratinéed parmesan cheese ever since I first had it at a friend’s house decades ago. Leeks are a different story though, since they were never served in our house during my childhood. Even now, I usually buy them only when I want to make leek and potato soup. But they deserved a more starring role for a change, so I paired them with the fennel in this casserole, and the combination was perfect.
Start by cooking the fennel in a gently simmering pan of water. Then drain it, arrange it in a buttered baking dish, and sprinkle with seasoned salt and pepper.
Do the same with the leeks, then cover everything with shavings of fresh parmesan cheese.
Place it in the oven for a short time, then turn on the broiler for a few minutes to brown the cheese, and decorate with some fennel fronds. Try it and see if you can’t convince more of your friends to try cooked fennel and leeks. I think my husband might finally be onboard. He even took seconds last night. But the leftovers are all mine.
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- 1 large fennel bulb
- 2 large leeks
- seasoned salt
- black pepper
- butter to smear on the casserole
- water to cover
- shaved parmesan cheese (about a half cup)
- Trim the stalks off the fennel, and cut out most of the hard core.
- Slice the fennel into four or five thick slices (about ¼" thick).
- Place the fennel gently into a pan with boiling water, to cover.
- Cover the pan and let it bubble gently for ten minutes or until the fennel is fork tender.
- Remove the fennel and place in a buttered casserole.
- Trim the leeks, cutting off most of the top green part, leaving a portion of it on the stem.
- Cut in half lengthwise and place under running water to remove any dirt.
- Place the leeks in the boiling water cut side down and boil gently for five minutes, covered.
- Flip the leeks over gently and cook another five minutes in the water.
- Remove the leeks from the water and drain.
- Into a buttered casserole, arrange the fennel and leeks, then season with salt and pepper.
- Place thin slices of parmesan cheese on the top.
- Place in a 475 degree oven for ten minutes, then place under the broiler for a few minutes until lightly browned.
- Keep a careful watch on the dish because it can burn easily.