I have not forgotten the first time I, as a six year old vegetarian, stuffed my first bite of potato gratin Dauphinoise into my mouth at La Duchesse Anne near Woodstock, New York. So memorable was the occasion, that I continued ordering the side dish as a main course for the next twenty-three years. But now that I know how to cook for myself, and it’s been almost twenty-five years, I thought it might be time to brush up the old classic and give it a bit of edge.
This is not a hard dish–not nearly as hard to get right as the original potato version. But it’s different, and I like that. Instead of potatoes, start with anise-scented, crisp, bright fennel, thinly sliced. Heat that briefly in cream thinned slightly with water, and cover under a snug blanket of breadcrumbs, Pecorino Romano, and herbs. Bake until the fennel is soft and mellow, the cream is bubbling, and the topping is a crispy crust.
Fresh from the oven, this dish is not as heavy as the original scalloped potato. Light, complex, still comforting. I can only describe it as delightful. The perfect side next to a grilled steak, or, in my childhood fashion, as the main event accompanied by a fresh green salad.