Ina Garten, elegantly known otherwise as the Barefoot Contessa, was my Mimi's favorite Food Network chef. I think she liked her best because Ina is more than a cook - she's an entertainer. With all her experience in catering, she really has a way with selecting the right foods for any occasion, and presenting them beautifully.
All three of my grandma's Barefoot Contessa cookbooks are now in my hands. Though almost none of her recipes are vegan, they provide plenty of culinary inspiration anyway. Last night, I felt like using this adorable little fennel bulb freshly pulled from a Gainesville farm that my roommates visited this week. Having seldom worked with fennel before, I looked to Ina for direction. Found her recipe for Potato-Fennel Gratin and decided I haaaaad to veganize it! Here is the VERY successful result...
serves 5 (she says it serves 10, but we were damn hungry!)
1 small bulb fennel w/ stalks
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Earth Balance
6 small potatoes, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
2 cups water
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon salt
Panko bread crumbs for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Ina says to chop off the fennel stalks, but I included them with a sprinkling of the leaves too to make up for only having one bulb instead of two. Anyway, throw the fennel and onion into a skillet with the olive oil and EB, sauteing until soft.
Meanwhile, saute the garlic in a sauce pan with a little more olive oil, just until fragrant. Whisk the flour into the 2 cups water. Add the onion powder, flour-water mixture, nooch, tahini and salt and whisk until thoroughly combined. Allow it to bubble and thicken.
Toss the sliced potatoes with the faux Gruyere, then mix in the fennel-onion saute. Pour it all into a baking dish, top with Panko and throw it in the oven for 1 hour. Allow it to set for around 15 minutes for optimum flavor-melding.