creamy potato and fennel au gratin

potatoes au gratin

Cheesy, creamy and delicious, Potato and Fennel au Gratin, is the ultimate comfort food for fall and winter evening meals. Thinly sliced potatoes baked in cream with Gruyere and Fontina cheese, this brown and bubbly gratin can be prepared ahead of time making it the perfect holiday side dish.

Potatoes, cheese and cream, three ingredients we all love, are combined and baked into a potato and fennel au gratin that is the perfect side dish for fall and winter meals. The ultimate comfort food, this potato gratin also makes a wonderful dish to serve at your table for the upcoming holiday season or special dinner. I believe everyone will be wanting a second serving of the creamy and delicious potatoes.

potato and fennel au gratin
Brown And Bubbly, Creamy And Delicious Potato And Fennel Au Gratin

Creamy Potato And Fennel Au Gratin

Serves 6 to 8, adjust the recipe accordingly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

  • 1 large fennel bulb, stalks removed (about 4 cups sliced)
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. butter plus additional to butter the baking dish
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 c. heavy cream
  • 2 lbs. Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
  • 1 1/2 c. grated Gruyere cheese (about 5 – 6 oz.)
  • 1 c. grated Fontina cheese (about 4 oz.)

Cut the fennel in half lengthwise and slice thinly (I used a mandolin) crosswise. Peel the onion, cut in half and then slice thinly. Heat olive oil and butter in a sauté pan, add the fennel, onion, garlic, herbs and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, until tender. Pour in the cream, stir well and remove from the heat. Remove the bay leaf and let the mixture sit until cool. (To infuse the cream with a stronger flavor, place in a container, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or more. (This step is optional but improves the flavor, it can be done the day before.)

Butter a 2 1/2 quart baking dish and set aside. Thinly slice the potatoes (I used a mandoline.) Place them in a large bowl and pour the cream mixture over the top. Add 1 cup of the Gruyere (reserving 1/2 cup for topping the gratin later) and all of the Fontina and mix together gently. Arrange the potato mixture evenly in the baking dish, being careful to not overfill. Press down lightly to even the top. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of Gruyere over on the top of the potatoes. Place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet in case any of the cream bubbles over. Bake, covered loosely with foil, for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for approximately 45 minutes more. The potatoes are done when tender and easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife and the top is browned and bubbly. Allow the gratin to cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes or more so that it sets up then serve. (The gratin can be made 1 or 2 days ahead and then reheated at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, covered.)

The first time I had the potato gratin was at a friend’s home for Christmas. I asked her for the recipe and she told me she got it from her Ina Garten cook book. I have made some subtle changes to her recipe which I then made for a large potluck dinner party. I prepped it early in the day, baked it two hours before leaving home and took it wrapped in foil and a couple of towels. It was served, still warm, about 45 minutes later and because of the resting time, the potatoes held their shape when served. I got rave reviews from those friends who had my version and that I have shared above.

You want a starchy potato for the gratin. Russets are excellent and make the thickest sauce although Yukon Golds tend to hold their shape a better, however the sauce might be slightly thinner.

A mandolin  makes slicing the potatoes quick and easy. You can also use a large sharp knife but try to make sure your slices are all roughly the same thickness so they will cook properly.

The fennel in the recipe is not a common ingredient in a potato gratin. If you are worried about it adding a strong anise flavor don’t be. Once cooked, it adds a very subtle and sweet taste to the dish which I liked.

I added garlic, a bay leaf, thyme and nutmeg to the original recipe.

The original recipe called for 2 cups of heavy cream with an additional 2 tablespoons of heavy cream added to the cheese topping. I eliminated the 2 tablespoons because you would have to buy a quart instead of a pint of cream for those additional two tablespoons. I also infused the cream with the sautéed fennel, onion and herbs for a couple of hours which I thought added extra flavor.

Gruyere, which is called for in the original recipe, is a good sharp French cheese but is expensive so I didn’t use all that was called for. Instead, I replaced one cup of Gruyere cheese with Fontina, a good substitute that melts very well. You could also use Provolone, Emmental, Gouda or your favorite cheese that melts well.

my Cooking notes


My version of Ina Garten’s recipe was a big hit at the potluck I took it to, everyone raved about the potatoes. What I like about the gratin is that it is easily adaptable and can definitely be assembled ahead of time and baked off later. That is something nice when you are cooking for a large group. This year, most of us won’t be cooking for a large group but any leftovers you might have are just as good, if not better, when reheated another day. The recipe can also be cut in half and served in individual gratin dishes or doubled and baked in a large casserole dish just adjust the baking time. The recipe is easy to put together and the end result is delicious. I hope you will try the potato and fennel gratin during this holiday season…it’s a classic dish that is also the ultimate comfort food.

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93 thoughts on “creamy potato and fennel au gratin

  1. Sounds like just my thing, Karen! I’ve made potato gratin and I’ve made fennel gratin but never mixed the two before – I think it’s about high time I did 🙂

  2. We’re fennel fans around here … this is a must try. Looks delicious Karen. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

      1. Of course – I always like to look at all versions first. Funny – I received an email from Ina “Happy Micro Thanksgiving” on the 24th and this recipe was included but cut in half. I think it is a must to try 🙂 Fennel is not always available…

  3. I love the combo of fennel and potatoes,and both play exceptionally well with cream and cheese. Gratins are always so good — hearty, but you can take just as much as you like, so you don’t have to get too full. This looks terrific — love that rich golden top. Good recipe — thanks.

    1. Hi John, I agree with you wholeheartedly about this combo, fennel adds so much flavor to the dish. And as you said, you don’t have to take a big serving but I think if you take a small bite, you will just go back for seconds. 😁

  4. Karen,
    This looks yummy. Fennel is a favorite of ours and as soon as this year’s crop comes in at the farmer’s market it will be on our table!

    1. I agree with you Gary, the weather is warm here in Florida and that won’t stop me from eating the potatoes…thank you so much for your compliment. 😊

  5. This is looking scrumptious! Perfect for an Autumn meal. And the addition of Fennel just kicks it up a notch.
    Thank you for sharing and Happy Day to you!

  6. Sounds delicious! A veganized version will defintely be attempted soon! 😉 I think with plenty of herbs and seasoning I wouldn’t miss the cheese, and I have had good results with a soya cream I can buy here. Thanks again for some inspiration Karen and I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving.

    1. Hi Cathy, I’m always happy when you can find a way to changed one of my recipes to make it vegan approved, so thank you…it will inspire others. 😊

  7. I send my best wishes to you for a healthy and pleasant celebration of my favourite American holiday . . . I love flannel .to bits but do not use most of the other ingredients myself . . . looks lovely: do enjoy ! . .

    1. Yes Eha, Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday but it felt so different this year. While the two of us ate alone, we are still thankful for so much.

  8. The Potato and Fennel au Gratin looks wonderful. I make Scalloped Potatoes from time to time, and until I read this post, I had never though about how the potato variety might affect the sauce.

    1. Hi Sheryl, yes different varieties of potatoes will definitely affect the qualities of a sauce. I’m glad you found the tip helpful, thank you.

  9. Sounds a superb dish. I think this is what we will be eating this evening. I don’t have any fennel (vegetable) but could try it with a few seeds.

  10. You know, I do love potatoes au gratin – I just don’t make them very often. I need to fix that and soon as this recipe sounds fantastic, Karen! (I also don’t cook with fennel near enough – thanks for the inspiration here.)

    1. Hi David, I’m always happy to inspire my fellow foodies. I believe you will enjoy the addition of fennel in this potato gratin. Thank you for your nice compliment.

    1. Thank you for your lovely compliment Jenna. You are right, fennel is an under used ingredient but it certainly does add lots of flavor to the potato gratin.

    1. Hi Judy, I’m glad that the potato gratin brought back memories of the scalloped potatoes that your mother used to make, I bet they were delicious.

  11. Karen, we’re huge Ina fans and have all of her cookbooks including her new Modern Comfort Food cookery book (but it’s wrapped as a Christmas gift for Eva). The creamy potato and fennel au gratin is a great recipe and one of our holiday favorites. I like your idea of blending the cheeses as Gruyère cheese is expensive here as well…

  12. Karen, this recipe looks so delicious. I’m fascinated by the inclusion of fennel and can’t wait to try it. And thanks so much for talking about cheese substitutions – sometimes I just can’t find Gruyere! ~Terri

    1. Hi Terri, Gruyère is hard to find as well as being expensive so I’m glad you liked my suggestions for other cheeses. The fennel takes this potato gratin to another level…I think you will really like the combination of flavors. Thank you for your compliment.

  13. I haven’t made a potato gratin in ages, it used to be a family favourite. Unfortunately, I would find this recipe too rich with all the cream and cheese, but it sure does look incredible.
    You can get Gruyère very well priced at Costco, in Canada, it’s authentic French too!

    1. Hi Eva, you are the good one, me not so much because I enjoyed every bite of the potato gratin with its cream and cheese. 😂 Costco does have great prices but nfortunately the closest one is 90 miles away from where we live. 😞

    1. Hi Mimi, I’m glad you like the addition of fennel in the gratin. For those that don’t care for it in its raw form, they will be pleasantly surprised with its mellow flavor once it is baked in this dish. Thank you for your nice compliment.

  14. This recipe sounds perfect for us – and I think I will make it on Christmas Eve. The first time I had a fennel gratin was in a small trattoria in Florence. It was amazing – and to add potatoes? Yes, please. I will add the bay and thyme as you did. (I wrote a different comment earlier but it never seems to have gotten through… This is the gist of it, though!)

  15. Hi David, Sorry about you having a problem with your comments not going through that is frustrating. I’ll be thinking about you on Christmas Eve because I’m making the potato and fennel gratin again for that meal too. Enjoy!

  16. Good to know about the fennel mellowing. I have heard this before but not tried it and I’m not an anise lover. Looks creamy and delicious and I agree about the mandolin!

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