It wasn't you fennel, it was me. For years I hated you. Hated you. I was so repulsed by you, that I almost lost you forever. Then, last night in the wee hours, a Fresh-To-You produce delivery truck dropped you off in a box on my front porch. Again, I was repulsed, but I decided to give our relationship one last try with Fennel Leek Casserole.
I lopped off your flowing fronds with a sharp knife, and fed them to the chickens. The only part of you remaining was your bulb. I thought about it just being me, you and a fork, but I couldn't stand the thought. I opted for a group date, inviting along a few of my best friends, butter, rice and cheese. Your companion on the truck ride up from the Capay Valley, a lovely leek, would chaperone.
After a cold bath and a few twirls in the salad spinner, we were off. You, leek and butter mingled in a hot skillet while rice was blanched and Swiss cheese was shredded. Then we all met up at the casserole dish. I tossed you all in, sprinkled on a few crushed red peppers, and into the oven you went.
I waited an hour. It was time for the moment of truth. I pulled you, hot, steamy and bubbly from the oven. You looked good, real good. You smelled good. But how would you taste? Would you still have that strong, licorice flavor, best enjoyed as a candy? Maybe the others tamed you. It was time to find out.
I dug in, expecting to find you still repulsive and finally kick you to the curb forever. But, you tasted good, real good.
You tasted so good, that I put down my fork, and ate with my fingers. "You look lovely by the glow of Christmas lights."
By dinnertime, I still wanted more. You were reheated and served with dinner. Michael, a fellow fennel hater, also loved you. He too ate with his bare hands, pulling off hunks of tender fennel encased in golden-browned cheese. We both decided that we love fennel, especially Fennel Leek Casserole. You can come round anytime.
If you hate fennel as much as we did, you have to try this recipe! It just might be love at first bite.
- 1 large fennel bulb (thinly sliced)
- 1 leek (cut in half and sliced into ¾" chunks)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ cup long grain rice
- ⅔ cups half and half
- 1 cup grated Swiss cheese
- Crushed red pepper
- Cut the green part off the leek and slice the white part in haf lengthwise. Cut into ¾" chunks and separate the pieces. Leeks may contain sand between the leaves so proper washing is important. Wash the leeks thoroughly in a bowl of cold water. Use a slotted spoon to lift the leeks from the water. Do not pour the water off as any sand in the bottom of the bowl with stick back to the leeks.
- Drain the leeks on paper towels. Slice the fennel bulb.
- Bring 5 cups of water to a full boil. Add the long grain rice and cook for five minutes, then drain.
- Melt the butter in a non-stick skillet over low-medium heat. Add the leeks, fennel, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently until the fennel and leeks are just beginning to soften. Pour in the drained rice and half and half, stirring to combine. Fold in the grated Swiss cheese and pour everything into a buttered casserole dish. Sprinkle a few crushed red pepper flakes over the top.
- Bake in a 350 degree oven for one hour. Serve piping hot from the oven.