Fennel, Carrot and Leek Gratin (Recipe Review)

Do you ever see a recipe and know, before you even make it, that you will fall in love with it from the first bite? That’s exactly what happened with this fennel, carrot and leek gratin. From the very first time I made it, I couldn’t get it out of my head. So the following week I made it again, and again shortly after. That was a year ago and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve made it since. And just thinking about and writing this gratin now makes me want to drop everything and recreate it.

Between the hearty veggies, creamy sauce, and crunchy, nutty topping, it’s sublimely cozy and comforting. Plus, it screams to fall. But above all, it is the addition of the fennel – the real star of the dish – that wins my heart. If you’re a fennel lover like me, you’re in for a real treat with this one, and if you’re still in doubt about fennel, this is the dish that will probably convince you. My family can attest.

What makes this gratin so special?

Of course, there are the gratins that are all about creamy, cheesy goodness and skewed towards decadence. But that style isn’t my favorite, and this isn’t that gratin. Yes, there’s a creamy sauce here, but it’s more of a supporting role than a main attraction. This gratin is all about the vegetables. And although there are three different varieties (fennel, carrot and leek), there is no doubt that the fennel is the star. I love fennel and have eaten it every possible way, but nothing can stop this method. The thin strands are cooked to soft, tender submission, softening the once assertive flavor. When paired with carrots, herbs, pecans, and crunchy breadcrumbs, it goes from really good to totally extraordinary. And it’s not just me who thinks so.

A New Thanksgiving Tradition

I knew from the first time I made last fall that I had to include it on our Thanksgiving table. Just the thought of dragging my turkey through the creamy sauce and loading a carrot and a wisp of fennel onto my fork made my mouth water. In theory, it sounds like a simple task to add one more side to the menu. But you see, my family is made up of Thanksgiving traditionalists through and through. Give them sage and herb filling, classic mashed potatoes, candied carrots, green bean almonds, cranberry sauce, and crunchy roasted Brussels sprouts, and they’ll be as happy as can be. They don’t want wildcards (when I used a Thanksgiving Salad, I was the only one who touched it; even Ina’s green bean gremolata didn’t go over well).

And here I feel a little confused. I host my family for Thanksgiving every year and it feels extremely important to me to cook and serve a meal that appeals to the whole family. At least for the most part. But sometimes I feel like I’m putting myself out there. I love the classics as much as my family, but I also love to try something new that l really like and feel excited about it.

So that’s exactly what I did last year. I made a fennel gratin, planned for all the ways I’d eat the leftovers (it’s great with a fried egg!), and quietly slid it onto our Thanksgiving table. My husband, whose love for fennel continues to blossom and who had already had this lace a few times, told my mother (another fennel lover) to try it. Heads lifted around the table to see what the excitement was about. And after my mother handed out some for my grandmother, more family members started trying. The leftovers I was raving about never came out as it didn’t take long for the casserole to be empty.

For those at the table who had never tasted fennel or weren’t quite sure, this was a great appetizer. And all thanks to the well-known carrot slices.

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