Fennel Gratinati: An easy winter side dish

Fennel is a versatile winter vegetable that adapts beautifully to all sorts of preparations, but not everyone knows it. Recently when I served this dish, one of our dinner guests not only had never eaten fennel, he had never even heard of it. But he loved this dish! It made me very happy to make a new fennel convert. If you aren’t yet familiar with fennel you are in for a treat!

I’ve eaten fennel–and cooked it–as long as I can remember: it is a staple on the Italian table and was one of my favorite winter vegetables growing up. Italians prepare fennel any number of ways, but one of my go-to preparations is fennel gratin (in Italian: Finocchi Gratinati), a super-simple side dish that appeals equally to newcomers and to those who have grown up eating fennel.

A cold-weather crop, in California winter is the perfect time to grow fennel or find it in local farmers markets or grocers (I know, 70℉ days may not seem like winter, but the days are short so the plants know what season it is, more or less). On a mid-January visit to our local farmers market in Los Angeles, it was everywhere and in abundance. Fennel can be braised, roasted, pureed in soups and included in pastas. One of the most memorable fennel dishes is the classic Christmastime dish Orange, Fennel, and Black Olive Salad, which uses thin slices of raw fennel for texture as well as flavor.

The preparation below is one of the simplest, most delicious ways to enjoy cooked fennel. It lets the subtle licorice flavor come through and adds a crunch and a bit of saltiness.

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Fennel Gratinata

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  • Author: Joe
  • Yield: 4 side dish servings 1x


  • 2 large fennel bulbs
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs (use panko breadcrumbs for extra crunch)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (or combine with Pecorino Romano cheese)
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 400℉.
  2. Lightly oil a baking dish or for easier clean-up, line a baking dish with a piece of parchment paper large enough to keep liquids from leaking onto the baking dish.
  3. Prepare the fennel by removing the stalks and any discolored or dry outer leaves. Slice each bulb into 6 wedges, with a portion of the root end in each wedge to keep it intact. Trim any brown bits from the root end.
  4. In a medium bowl, toss the fennel wedges with olive oil, salt and pepper to coat well.
  5. In a small bowl, mix the cheese(s), breadcrumbs and thyme. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Pour out the fennel wedges into the prepared baking dish and arrange so the fennel doesn’t overlap. Sprinkle on a layer of the breadcrumb/cheese mixture covering all the fennel pieces.
  7. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes or so, until the fennel is nicely browned.
  8. Serve the fennel from the baking dish or arrange on another platter for serving.

Join the Conversation

  1. I adore fennel. both raw and cooked, but haven’t made this dish in ages. I sometimes do a richer version with bechamel, but I really like this lighter approach.

    1. Thanks very much! I think the use of breadcrumbs helps give it a nice crunch without overwhelming the subtle licorice flavor of the fennel. Joe

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