Sformato di Finocchio, Patate e prosciutto - Fennel and Potato Casserole
Need a delicious dinner that can be prepared ahead of time? Here it is! A flavorful dish prepared with layers of potatoes, fennel and ham accompanied by a creamy, silky béchamel sauce baked to perfection inside the wood-fired oven, is the perfect combination of flavors. Easily prepared ahead of time and heated up right before sitting around the kitchen table, this dish will certainly be loved and enjoyed by many. By omitting the ham this delicious SFORMATO also becomes a perfect vegetarian dish.
Remove stems and fronds as well as the bottom of the fennel with the help of a sharp knife.
Cut the fennel in half and then each half into wedges. Place wedges into cold water with 1 teaspoon of baking soda. The baking soda removes impurities. Set aside.
Peel the potatoes and slice them into 1/4" thickness with a mandolin or with a sharp knife. (1/2 cm)
Simmer the sliced potatoes in salted, boiling water no longer than 3 minutes.
Once the potatoes are still firm but partially cooked, remove them carefully from the water so as to not brake them, and allow them to cool on a clean tea cloth.
Place the fennel wedges into the same salted, boiling water for about 3.5 minutes or until tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.
After 3.5 minutes, carefully remove the fennel wedges from the boiling water and allow them to cool and drain on a clean tea cloth.
Reserve the potato and fennel cooking water as you may need to add it to the béchamel sauce. The broth can also be frozen and used later for a delicious vegetable soup.
To make the béchamel sauce place the butter into a pan and allow to melt. Continue to simmer in order for the water content in the butter to cook out. This might take 2-3 minutes on medium-low heat until the bubbles diminish and the water evaporates. Be careful not to allow the butter to brown and burn.
Once the water has cooked out, pour the flour into the pan all at once stirring constantly until all the flour is coated with the fat of the butter. Allow the two ingredients to continue cooking on low heat for a few minutes making sure to stir constantly with a whisk. Doing this will also eliminate the raw flour taste in the sauce. (You have now created a Roux that can now be placed in the refrigerator for later use as a thickener for other dishes if not needed immediately.)
For the béchamel it is time to add the room temperature milk to the roux all at once as you whisk constantly. This process can be done even off the heat source. Initially you may see small lumps but continue whisking as they will brake up and dissolve into a creamy and silky consistency. Stirring the béchamel the entire time is imperative for a smooth, creamy sauce.
Add salt to taste, a pinch of nutmeg, the thyme and minced garlic to the sauce. Stir once again as the sauce simmers and thickens up and cover with a lid to prevent a film from forming on the top.
Now time for the assembly. Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of the casserole dish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
Layer some of the potatoes, overlapping them slightly, on the bottom of the dish. With the help of the ladle pour the béchamel sauce over the potatoes.
Sprinkle part of the Parmesan cheese and the the Fontina over the béchamel.
Layer the prosciutto cotto over the cheese.
Place the fennel wedges over the prosciutto and layer with the béchamel sauce.
Top with the sliced potatoes, overlapping them slightly.
Continue this process and pour the béchamel over the dish as the last layer.
Sprinkle the top with the leftover cheese and finally with the bread crumbs.
Drizzle the top with olive oil.
Place the dish into the preheated oven for about 40 minutes. If the top begins to brown too quickly place some aluminum foil over the dish for about 10 minutes. Make sure the foil does not touch the top.
Carefully take the casserole out of the oven and allow the dish to rest for about 20 minutes at room temperature.