This is a great time of year to add another dip to your repertoire, especially a warm dip with cheese scattered on top that turns golden as it bakes. And, this is one of the simplest out there. Rather than mixing the primary ingredients with mayonnaise or sour cream as is customary, this dip is made up of pureed, roasted fennel and garlic. There are only four ingredients in this dip if you don’t count the salt and pepper, but those are four very flavorful ingredients that make the end result seem a lot more complicated. I saved this recipe from the Thanksgiving dinner story in the November 2010 issue of Living magazine. The dip was served as a starter along with kale chips with sea salt and lemon which were made in the usual way by chopping kale leaves, tossing with olive oil and salt, and then roasting until crisp. The twist was that when the kale chips came out of the oven, they were topped with lemon zest. I liked the idea of having crispy, lemony chips with the warm, rich dip. So, I served the dip already spread onto little toasted pieces of bread with a kale chip nestled on top and more chips piled in the middle of the platter of toasts.
You start by trimming and removing the core from three fennel bulbs and then chopping them into thick wedges. The fennel wedges are then browned in a skillet with extra-virgin olive oil. Four or five peeled, whole, and slightly smashed garlic cloves are added as the fennel browns. Then, the fennel is turned, seasoned, the skillet was covered with foil, and it’s placed in a 400 degree F oven for about 30 minutes. The fennel and garlic should become completely tender and sweet. Next, the roasted fennel and garlic was transferred to a food processor and pureed until smooth. Grated parmigiano reggiano was added and mixed in, and then you should taste for seasoning. The puree was scooped into a small baking dish and topped with more grated parmesan before it went back into the oven that had been turned up to 450. After about 20 minutes, the dip was warmed through, and the cheese on top was invitingly browned. I toasted some sliced, homemade, sourdough baguette as the dip baked, and popped the kale chips into the oven as the dip cooled a bit.
Mellow roasted garlic and fennel with the big flavor of parmesan makes for a delicious mix. With that much flavor, you'd never guess how short the ingredient list actually is. And, the hit of lemon on the kale chips was a nice, perky contrast to the savory dip. Since it’s easy to make the dip in advance, chill it, and bake it just before serving, this will definitely be a go-to recipe for holiday parties.