This is inspired by the classic pommes dauphinoise, where potatoes are cooked in a gratin dish with milk, cheese, cream and a hint of garlic. Cooked fennel is also wonderful with all these ingredients, and this recipe is quicker than most versions of pommes dauphinoise as you mix the ingredients together instead of layering them. The nutty taste of Gruyère cheese is an important element. Close-textured salad potatoes or new potatoes are the best to use. For a real treat, use saffron-infused cream, which is made by putting a pinch of saffron threads into the cream, bringing it just up to bubbling and then leaving it to cool while the saffron infuses before using.
Steam or boil the potato and fennel slices together for about 10 minutes until half cooked and beginning to soften. You may need to do this in two batches depending on the size of your steamer or saucepan. Drain and put into a mixing bowl. Stir the butter into the vegetables with a wooden spoon, then crush the garlic into the mixing bowl. Mix in the Gruyère cheese together with a seasoning of crushed sea salt and black pepper.
Spoon into a large, shallow ovenproof dish and pat level. Pour over the cream slowly. Dot the top with a little more butter and sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese. Put the dish towards the top of a preheated oven, 180°C, 350°F, Gas Mark 4 for 40-50 minutes until the surface is browned in patches.
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