Like the fried fiori di zucca, there are some dishes whose ratio of low effort to extraordinary result seems like a violation of some natural— or at least moral— law. This is one such. The recipe comes originally from Frank, the Tuscan restaurant on 2nd Avenue between 5th and 6th Street in New York, which was for a while in the late 90s an undiscovered beauty but has suffered being written up, famous and mobbed for many years now. Frank is still very much worth the visit, especially at 11:46pm on a Tuesday. Frank, the man, was kind enough to share this improbable fennel stunt with us back in the day. The flavor was so complex that we were hard-pressed to believe that it was a three ingredient dish. Frank, you shitting me? (Accompanied by appropriate large-amplitude hand gestures.) Of course, when two of the ingredients are the most perfect hard cheese ever invented and an aromatic bulb full of complex polycyclic whatsits, one understands that the “simplicity” is only superficial.
Take one or more bulbs of fresh fennel and wrap them tightly in tinfoil with no leaks. Roast them in the oven at 375 degrees for.. a good while. Open them carefully over a bowl, as you want to save any liquor that may escape. The bulb should be soft and juicy all the way through.
Cut each bulb in half lengthwise and put into a ramekin. Don’t leave too much surrounding space. Pour all the juice in there. Now, coat with heavy cream and a generous quantity of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Don’t be fainthearted about this— the fennel should be nearly submerged. (That’s why you cut them in half and used individually-sized ramekins.) Put these ramekins back into the oven at Fahrenheit 451 or so— the temperature at which good sense burns. When the guys are good and cooked, you can grate a bit more Parmigiano on top and run them under the broiler very briefly to char the upper surface.
This needs to be accompanied by a nice crusty baguette, because the bits of fonduta or whatever the hell it is surrounding the intensely flavored fennel bulbs will be consumed by you and your friends one way or another, with a discreetly swirled finger if all else fails.