This recipe is a sort of Cassoulet without the meat. It is surprising that it really is a meal in itself and that the fennel manages to replace the customary addition of bacon, duck and sausages so well. If, however you are the sort of person who just cannot go without meat, just serve up some sausages alongside. Other wish, a nice crisp salad will do.
Fennel & Cannellini Bean Gratin
2 garlic cloves
2 fennel bulbs
400g tin cannellini beans
1 tin plum tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground fennel
Zest and juice the lemon. Peel and slice the onion. Trim the fennel bulbs, removing any tough outer layers. Slice them in half, lengthways. Remove the tough root with a v-shaped cut and thinly slice. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan and gently fry the onion and fennel for 10 minutes until starting to soften. Allow them to take on some colour but add a dash of water if they look like they might burn. While the fennel cooks, peel and finely chop 2 garlic cloves. Add the garlic to the pan of fennel. Cook gently for a further 2 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes, rinse out the tin with a little water and add that two and break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Add the ground fennel and oregano. Bring to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes on a low heat until the sauce thickens. Taste and adjust the seasoning if you feel it needs it. Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Tip the fennel and tomato mixture into a gratin dish. Mix the breadcrumbs with the cheese and the lemon zest. Cover the gratin with an even layer of the breadcrumb mix. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs have turned golden and the sauce is bubbling.