Fennel & Potato Gratin

Fennel & Potato Gratin

It was with more than a touch of sadness that I read yesterday that Kiwi culinary icon Alison Holst has hang up her apron for the final time as she is suffering from dementia.

Up until a month ago she was still writing a column for her local
community newspaper and for many New Zealander’s Alison has been part of their lives since the mid-1960’s.

These days television food and cooking shows are everywhere – there are even whole channels devoted to them – but back in 1965, when Alison first appeared on New Zealand TV screens and the year that TV was introduced to New Zealand, it would have been a whole different story.

Her book A Home-grown Cook – The Dame Alison Holst Story (yes, for non-Kiwi readers this woman was made a Dame in 2011 for her services to the food industry) is a fantastic read and tells her story from a modest upbringing in Dunedin, New Zealand to becoming one of New Zealand’s most endearing icons

A few years ago when I was Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market Manager I was lucky enough to meet Alison, her husband Peter and their son Simon, who has followed in his mother’s footsteps, when they visited the market and I was asked to give them a personal tour.

What impressed me most about this woman was her interest in what producers where doing and how she stopped and spoke with the stallholders wanting to know all about their products. I was told that they only had half an hour as they had a plane to catch, but it was more than three-quarters of an hour before they managed to drag Alison out of the market!

For 50 years, Dame Alison has graced our television screens,
produced practical cookbooks and generally taught a nation about food and cooking – thank you Alison.

The other day Charlie over at Hotly Spiced mentioned she had served a fennel and potato gratin at her Easter Sunday lunch, which got me thinking it would be a good way to use some lovely new
season’s fennel that I had. My recipe is loosely based on one by
English cook Mary Berry.

What I particularly like about Mary’s gratin is that the vegetables are blanched before baking and so ensuring that the vegetables in the final dish are meltingly tender.

Fennel & Potato Gratin

On this occasion I made the gratin in individual dishes, but it works equally well when baked in a single dish that will hold all the ingredients.

Fabulous as a side to fish or pork, but is substantial enough to be a meal in itself – just add a salad of mixed leaves on the side.

Serves 4 as a main or 6-8 as a side

softened butter
3 medium fennel bulbs
2 medium onions
500g medium potatoes, scrubbed
2 garlic cloves, crushed
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup grated hard cheese – I used a local sheep cheese that has a delicate nutty flavour which teamed brilliantly with the fennel, but Parmesan or Pecorino can also be used

1              Preheat oven to 200°C. Smear individual baking dishes or ramekins generously with butter.

2              Trim the tops from the fennel and cut each bulb in half lengthwise through the root, leaving the root intact. Then cut each half lengthways into wedges.

3              Cut onions, in half lengthwise and peel. Then, cut each half into wedges. Cut potatoes lengthwise into wedges about the same size as the fennel wedges.

4              Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add salt to taste, then add potatoes wedges and bring back to the boil, add fennel and onion wedges and simmer for 5 minutes or until potatoes are barely tender. Drain

5              Place about 60g butter and the garlic in a large clean
saucepan over a low heat and melt. When butter has melted, add vegetables, a good grind of salt and black pepper and toss to coat. Divide vegetables between individual baking dishes or ramekins, scatter with cheese and bake for 30 minutes or until vegetables are very tender and cheese is melted and golden.

Where did the ingredients for this dish come from:
Potatoes, onions, garlic: Krismaw Gardens – Hastings; Fennel: The Chef’s Garden @ Epicurean – Hastings; Cheese: Origin Earth – Havelock North; Store Cupboard Ingredients: butter, salt, black pepper

Note: Many of these producers can be found at the Napier Urban Food Market each Saturday morning and/or at the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’
Market each Sunday morning.

Happy cooking and eating.

Recipe very slightly adapted by Rachel Blackmore

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Learn more about fennel:

Fennel - An Italian Favourite

Fennel – An Italian Favourite

Other recipes using fennel you might like to try:

Fennel, Leek & Lemon Risotto

Fennel, Leek & Lemon Risotto

Caramelised Fennel and Onion Pizza

Caramelised Fennel and Onion Pizza

 

7 thoughts on “Fennel & Potato Gratin”

  1. Hi Rachel, Thank you for sharing your really lovely memories of our Dame Alison. She has been hugely influential to so so many kiwis learning to cook, or to expand their knowledge, or be entertained, through her books and her ground breaking TV shows. She is incomparable. A very sad diagnosis for an amazing lady. PS this recipe sounds yummy !! Jeni

  2. I am so sorry to hear that this wondeful lady is suffering with dementia, it is debilitating. Luckily she is surrounded by her family. This is a great fennel and potato gratin, I would love to try your nutty sheeps milk cheese but will probably stick to pecorino. When fennel is reproducing you seem to have a glut of it and don’t have enough recipes in your reportoire, this sounds delightful Rachel 🙂
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