It was a totally casual comment from my brother-in-law that set my mind ablaze. I had been visiting my newest nephew, four month old baby Carl, in his new home in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn this week and had to run off early because, I told my family, I needed to make an Eggplant Parmesan for a client. This is when Carl's father Lee, also a food professional, told me that he had recently heard about some chef making a fennel Parmesan. Fennel Parmesan? Fennel Parmesan? FENNEL PARMESAN!
That was it. I was aquiver with desire. I had no idea how to make it, but I was determined to figure it out.
I picked up a fennel bulb on the way home and planned on making a small batch for myself to see how it would go. The mental picture I conjured just sent me wild with anticipation. I don't know why, but it just sounded like it would be SOOOOOOOOOO Good!!
Fennel has a lovely mild celery/liquorish flavor. When cooked it retains its moisture so the process of batter dipping, pan frying and then baking under lots of cheese made sense. I knew it would hold up to the assault and come out a winner.
My first challenge was how to cut the fennel bulb. Plunked on the cutting board it reminded me eerily of a human heart. Should I slice lengthwise and make wedges or crosswise and make rings? Fennel is similar to an onion in that it has layers. I opted for wedges.
The rest of the recipe was a no brainer. I dusted the fennel wedges with flour (which did not really stick to the dry fennel, oh well), I dipped the wedges in egg wash, and then rolled them in panko crumbs and grated parma cheese. Pan fried till golden, laid in a pan, topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, I plowed through all the stages. It baked in the oven for 25 minutes until I pulled it out. Hot, hot, hot, but I wanted to taste it right away. Burned my mouth in the process.
I don't know what to say. It was so good I had tears in my eyes. I ate half the entire pan within minutes of it leaving the oven. It tasted absolutely as good as I had hoped. I could live on this. Seriously.
Amanda, this dish is just screaming for a great wine pairing. I would happily serve this to guests with a salad or some sauteed spinach. I am getting woozy with desire.
2 fennel bulbs cut into *wedges
1 cup of flour
1 egg beaten with a Tbs of water
1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 24 oz jar of good tomato sauce (make your own if you wish)
8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese sliced
*figure about a 1" wide wedge or slices cut in half lengthwise. I trimmed out the core after cutting the wedges so that the fennel wouldn't completely fall apart. Don't stress too much over this. the dish is going to taste great no matter what.
Pre heat oven to 350F
Set up your battering station (sounds so violent!):
Put flour in a bowl and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Put egg wash in another shallow bowl and season with a pinch of s & p. Put panko crumbs and grated cheese in another bowl and season with a pinch of s & p. Dip each fennel wedge into each bowl, flour, egg, panko in that order and lay on a baking sheet.
Heat oil in a saute pan and cook the fennel until golden brown, turning once, about 5 minutes per side. Lay pan fried fennel in a single layer in a baking pan and top with the tomato sauce spooned over the fennel in an even layer. Top the fennel and sauce with the sliced mozzarella.
bake in oven for 25 minutes, until the cheese is golden and melted.
This just sounds (and looks) crazy delicious! Never in a million years could I come up with something like this. Who would've thought? Fennel Parmesan??!! What could be bad? I love the mild flavors of licorice fennel offers. And cheese? You could put melted cheese on tree bark and I'd eat it. Add tomato sauce and I'm in heaven. Not sure I could get many takers in my household though. Deb, do you think this dish would freeze well? If not, I will use it as an excuse to have a "mom's night out" at my house. Your enthusiasm for the dish is contagious! I have not even tried it and already I think it's spectacular! My stomach growled and my mouth watered just reading your description.
Deb, you mentioned the need for a great wine. As it so happens, I am sipping the perfect partner to this dish at this very moment. It is the Di Majo Norante 2008 Sangiovese. Wonderful. The Wine Advocate calls it "incredibly delicious" and gave it a 90 point rating. The shocker? It's $8.95 per bottle. An absolute bargain. The wine has everything going for it to complement this dish perfectly. It is bright red in color, medium in body and full of fruit. Hints of leather introduce themselves on the palate. And, I get just a touch of licorice and pepper on the finish. It's not too powerful as to overpower the meal. It is delicious and the pricetag makes it even more so!