Saturday, 7 January 2012

Recipe XLI - Fennel and Potato Gratin with Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Fennel: one of the most underrated vegetables you can find. I simply adore fennel - it needs no seasoning if you don't want, it has its own distinct flavour and compliments so many other dishes. In this recipe, I wish to illustrate how to entice reluctant visitors or children to eat this sadly ignored yet adorable bulbous vegetable.

Ingredients for the gratin:
1 or 2 bulbs of fennel
5 medium-to-large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1.5cm³-2cm³ pieces
1 onion
1 pot of cream
250g of a decent yellow cheese (e.g. Gruyère, Emmental) - I used sliced Fol Epi
10 ground peppercorns
A couple of knobs of butter
Some olive oil

Switch on the oven to 180°C and put a ceramic baking dish in it. Parboil the potatoes, drain them and let them rest for a few minutes. While that is going on, put some butter and olive oil into a deep frying pan and add the fennel. Fry on a medium heat for 5 minutes before adding the onion. Add the ground pepper and some salt, and continue to fry on a medium heat for another ten minutes. Take the baking dish out. Put some fresh olive oil in the bottom and a knob of butter. Add some potatoes, then some fennel, then some cheese. Repeat the process, until all the ingredients have been used up, not forgetting to put a layer of cheese on top (see below).

Pour the cream into the dish and put it in the oven for about an hour.

Ingredients for the meatballs:
500g minced beef
1 shallot
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of oregano
1 egg
Half a carton of tomato passata
A glass of red wine

Instructions for the meatballs:
As soon as the gratin goes in the oven, you will have exactly enough time to get this bit ready, and a bit of time to spare.
Crush and chop the garlic, slice the shallot into very small pieces. Put the minced beef, the garlic, the oregano and the chopped shallot into a bowl. With a fork, work all the ingredients together until they form a homogeneous consistency. Add the egg and mix that in to act as a binding agent. If you have done your job well enough, you may think you do not need the egg. Using both hands, pick up a piece of the mixture and make it into a round shape, as below, as big or as small as you would like. Repeat until all is used up. Remember how many guests you have, and make the balls accordingly. I made 12 in the end, for three guests.

Using the frying pan you had previously for the fennel, heat some oil and fry the balls on a medium heat until all the balls are sealed on the outside. Add some tomato passata, some red wine and some herbs. Once the liquid has heated up, turn down the heat, cover and cook for twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. Add some herbs to taste.


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