Finocchio Gratinee
(Baked Fennel in a White Sauce)

Fennel is a very interesting vegetable - once you get to know it, you will be comfortable cooking with it. It has a strong flavor, but lies somewhere between celery and licorice! This recipe is an elegant side dish and can be used as a holiday dish or not! Italians don't steam their vegetables; they cook them until they are soft. American Southerners do the same - I figure that what they don't absorb in quality - they are sure to make up for through the quantity that they consume! Both authentic cuisines are delicious!

Ingredients:
- Fennel (one per person)
- Bechamel (a white sauce {butter, salt, pepper, flour and whole milk)
- Hand grated fresh parmigiano cheese

Trim the fennel until all that remains is the bulb (you can keep the 'beard' and substitute it for fresh dill). Trim the bottom also if it is discolored. Score a deep 'x' (about an inch) on the bottom of the fennel, this helps cook the inside faster and keeps it a little less mushy than if you don't score it. Boil the fennel whole in water that has been salted. You will want to taste the salt, but don't use too much salt for this recipe. When a fork enters the boiled fennel easily, it is ready.
 
Remove it from the water. Cut the cooked fennel in wedges. Some pieces will stay attached and some will fall apart. Both are just fine. Preheat your oven to 350. We are now ready to prepare the bechamel. In a separate saucepan melt, but don't burn, a half of a stick of butter (salted or not, doesn't make a difference). Add a heaping tablespoon of flour, along with some salt and pepper.
 
Mix this into the butter with a whisk. Slowly stir in about a cup and a half of warm milk. Stirring on a medium to low flame slowly will prevent lumps. Your b�chamel will thicken up, but don't let it get too hard. Mix the b�chamel with your already prepared fennel. Pour both into a baking dish. Spread evenly.

Sprinkle a generous amount (cover the top) of hand grated fresh parmigiano on top. This dish is ready to serve when the cheese turns a golden brown.

Buon Appetito!
And remember - cook with love AND DON'T BE CHEAP!