Thursday, July 5, 2012

a gratin for summer

Having the Fourth of July in the middle of the week gets confusing. When do you celebrate, before or after? I opted for "before" and spent some lazy days on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

 This sleepy side of Florida, provides ample natural inspiration. 
I even managed to get some work done while away, making notes for some ideas for the upcoming school year for Wellness in the Schools.  I squeezed in a little sketching too, as my mind wandered from the task at hand!
The scenery never fails to send me into a dreamy relaxation. The stillness here is profound, only interrupted by the occasional fish that leap out of the water and slap back down before you can catch a glimpse, or grab a fishing pole.
Among the most arduous of tasks is deciding which sea shells are the prettiest.
 Or which trees are the most exotic. I get very caught up in the whole tree thing. Everything looks so improbable to this city girl, as if it all came straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.
A meal served at this table setting is bound to taste good. At least, that was my excuse. I was not going to be critical with myself, but just enjoy the scene and try not to get too worked up about the cooking, especially as it was me again at the stove.  An outdoor grill and a light breeze was all I needed.

One of the many great things about Florida, and to me, additionally exotic, is that you can buy wine at the supermarket. I found this bottle of Ravenswood Zinfandel Vintners Blend 2009, for a reasonable $8.99 at the local Publix, and served it with some grilled vegetables and seafood. 

The wine was delicious! It was so smooth and round with a perfectly balanced chocolaty/cherry flavor- my favorite in red wine. It made me think about pairing it with the Fennel Gratin I made last week for my book group dinner. How I wish I had this wine on hand to pair it with that evening. Sorry ladies, next time.
The gratin is not exactly summer cooking- the oven has to be on for at least an hour, but sometimes you want something a little substantial in the summer, something other than a salad.
- r e c i p e-

Fennel Gratin

2 Fennel bulbs, sliced into 1 inch slabs
4 Tbs butter
2 Tbs flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup milk
1 cup grated fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh thyme

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F
In a large baking dish spread 2 tablespoons of butter all over the bottom and sides. Lay out the slices of fennel over the bottom of the buttered baking dish, trying to keep it to more or less a single layer with minimal overlapping.

In a small sauce pan, make a bechamel sauce by melting the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter over low heat. When the butter is melted stir in the flour and the salt, pepper and nutmeg and continue to stir until a paste is formed.

Slowly add the cup of milk, whisking to remove any lumps. Let the milk come to a gentle boil and simmer the sauce to a thick consistency.

Pour the sauce evenly over the fennel. Top the baking dish completely with the two cheeses and the thyme. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until the fennel is tender and when the cheeses have melted and browned and the sauce is bubbling up.

serves 4


  1. It all looks so beautiful and inviting, but the thing I think I love best is how you organize your shells! Gorgeous....

  2. I'm always a little (ok a lot) behind when it comes to looking at things online. I'm finally sitting down to look at this post and - oh how it makes me miss that perfect little retreat! To think, just days before you were there enjoying the serene tranquility, Richard and I wondered if we might not wake up and find that the house had blown away, out from under us, in the middle of the night. Thanks, Tropical Storm Debbie! Oh well. Regardless, I can't wait to get back there! I had the opportunity to make some delicious zucchini pancakes to accompany the fish we bought at the farmers market during our visit. Maybe next time, I'll try your beautiful gratin. It looks delicious! xo


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