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.
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.