I was perusing my site the other day, trying to figure out something new to make and blog about. I also had a house full of visitors, including my very adorable little great-niece Bella, and needed a vegetable for a family dinner. Can you believe I didn’t have a single cauliflower recipe on the site? I don’t have anything against cauliflower – I guess it just seems a little boring on its own.Fortunately I had a fennel bulb in the refrigerator, and immediately felt a gratin would be special. I also have my homemade pancetta in the freezer, silently calling to me to be used every time I open that door. Now that’s how you turn boring into beautiful in my kitchen!The gratin is a simple thing – some blanched cauliflower, sliced fennel, a light Bechamel sauce (I made mine with skim milk), some fried pancetta, and a panko breadcrumb topping that I toasted in the pancetta drippings (whatever you do, don’t skip this part!). You can make this ahead and just bake it right before serving. Easy, right?

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Cauliflower and Fennel Gratin with Pancetta
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Vegetable, Side Dish
Serves: 6
  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 1 large fennel, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces pancetta, diced (or thick sliced bacon)
  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups milk (any variety)
  • 2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Blanch cauliflower in boiling water until very al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain, combine with fennel in a large bowl, and set aside. Cook panetta until very crispy; remove with a slotted spoon and add to the vegetables. Add breadcrumbs to the rendered pancetta fat and toast for a few minutes; set aside. Combine butter and flour in a saucepan, melt, and cook for a few minutes to remove the raw flour taste. Slowly whisk in the milk and stir until thickened. Stir in cheese just until melted, then season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  2. Pour sauce over the vegetables and pancetta and stir to combine. Pour into a greased 8x8 inch oven safe baking pan. Top with toasted breadcrumbs and bake at 375 degrees until bubbly and brown on the top, about 40 minutes.
Wanting a vegetarian dish instead? Simply leave out the pancetta and toast the breadcrumbs in olive oil instead.