This dreamy, creamy, fennel and white beans casserole with lemony-parmesan breadcrumbs makes the perfect bubbly-edged side or meatless main to satisfy your dinnertime cravings!
My oldest daughter, Hannah, and her family live about 15 minutes away from our house. We share a common love of all things food and cooking and for the last three years we’ve collaborated weekly on a big family dinner. It’s usually smack in the middle of the week- a Wednesday or Thursday- and my youngest daughter and her boyfriend drive an hour every week to join us.
There can be as many as 10 of us sitting around the table on those nights. Sometimes it gets pretty loud and dinner usually runs a little late. But it’s always delicious and those shared meals are as satisfying for our souls as they are for our appetites.
Not too long ago I would rush through my weekdays because I thought the weekends were when all the good stuff happened. But since starting our midweek tradition, I’ve seen the flaw in living for the weekends.
Because, as it turns out? The good stuff in life happens whenever you decide to pause and make time for it …no weekend required ❤️
Craving Comfort Food In Spring
More often than not Hannah and I find ourselves inspired by the seasons when we’re deciding what to make for our next collaboration. But spring in Ohio is an interesting and unpredictable time of year.
For example, last week we had three straight days of temperatures in the upper 60’s. We opened our windows for the first time in months, welcoming the fresh air as it washed through the house. Neighbors were breaking out their BBQs and kids were running around outside in shorts and t shirts.
Spring had sprung!
But today, as I type this post? There’s a flurry of big, wet snowflakes falling outside my window with an expected accumulation of several inches by tonight.
So last week when Hannah and I were planning the next week’s menu, we both were feeling all the warm-weather-food vibes. Coffee rubbed tri-tip was the starting point of our menu. It was an opportunity to break out my yet-to-be-used sous vide- a Christmas gift from Hannah and Jillian. And we were thinking spring-like sides: grilled asparagus, a bright green salad with a citrusy vinaigrette, little redskin potatoes tossed with butter and fresh herbs.
But, being spring in Ohio, that warm, sunny weather was short lived.
And the day before our dinner we found ourselves craving the warm, bubbly, comfort food sides of winter once again. So, the asparagus was blanched and added to the salad along with some thinly sliced radishes. A baguette was toasted. And this dreamy, creamy, white bean and fennel casserole with lemony-parmesan breadcrumbs made the perfect bubbly-edged side to satisfy our lingering winter cravings.
“Spring-Winter” has an upside… it gives us just a little more time to savor cozy, comfort foods like this one 🙂
What Will You Need?
You’ll need less than an hour start to finish and the following ingredients:
- Fennel Bulbs
- Olive oil, Kosher Salt and Cracked Pepper
- Garlic Cloves
- Cannellini Beans (canned or in a jar)
- Fresh Thyme Leaves
- Heavy Cream
- One Lemon, zested and juiced
- Panko Breadcrumbs
- Parmesan Cheese
A Few Words On Fennel And White Beans
Prepping Fresh Fennel: If you haven’t worked with fresh fennel before you might look at it and wonder how the heck to prep it. Start by cutting off the tough root end and the stalks at the top where they meet the bulb (save the fronds for garnish or throw them in salads). Next cut the bulb in half from top to bottom and use the tip of your knife to cut out the triangular piece of core. Lay the cored halves flat side down on your cutting board and slice into 1/4 inch strip lengthwise.
And if you accidentally cut them crosswise? No big deal…just pretend you did it on purpose. No one will know 🙂
(Here’s a video from Kitchen Stories on How To Prep Fennel if you need a little more direction)
Choosing Your Beans: I adapted this recipe from one I found on the NYTimes website that called for any white bean.But all white beans are not created equal and I think cannellini beans are best here. They’re meaty and hold their shape when cooked. Plus, they’re wonderfully creamy inside which gives this dish a luscious feel. You can substitute great northern beans with good results, although they won’t get quite as creamy. I don’t recommend navy beans here because they’ll turn to mush.
I recently discovered Jovial beans and am a big fan of their flavor and texture. They do cost a couple dollars more than other canned beans, but I feel like they’re worth it. That said you can absolutely use whatever canned beans you have in your pantry and the final result will be delicious!
I hear soaking dried beans overnight and cooking them yourself is the way to go for the creamiest beans, but I just can’t seem to get my act together that far ahead. So, if you’re a think-ahead-&-soak-your-beans kind of cook? Do it! And know that I want to be just like you one day ☺️
(But for now, I’m going to appreciate the convenience of having canned beans ready to go in my pantry!)
How To Make Creamy Fennel and White Beans
Recipes go so much more smoothly when you get things prepped before you start cooking. So cut up your fennel, shallot and garlic, zest and juice your lemon, and preheat your oven.
- First, you’ll cook the fennel in olive oil for a few minutes until it begins to soften, then add the shallot and cook and stir until the fennel begins to get golden spots on the edges. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper.
- While the vegetables are cooking, puree one jar of beans INCLUDING IT’S LIQUID with the heavy cream, lemon juice and olive oil until smooth.
- Drain and rinse the other jar of beans and add to the fennel.
- Stir in the bean puree and fresh thyme. Taste. Does it need more salt, pepper or lemon juice? It might be perfect exactly as-is. You know what you like, so you do you 🙂
- For the topping, combine the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, parmesan and a little more olive oil in a bowl.
- Sprinkle evenly over the fennel and white beans mixture and slide the whole thing into the oven for 20 minutes.
All that’s left to do is wait patiently for the topping to get beautifully golden and for the edges to get nice and bubbly. Maybe pour a glass of wine. Set the table. Make a salad. Or just relax and enjoy the smells and the anticipation 🙂
Mmmmmmmmm…how gorgeous is that??? You know what might be even prettier, though? If you sprinkle those reserved fennel fronds on top…someone was distracted and completely forgot lol
What To Serve Along Side?
Truthfully, this could easily be the main dish for a vegetarian meal. It’s hearty and filling enough to stand on its own paired with green beans or a simple salad and some crusty bread!
As a side dish it would be excellent with simple grilled sausages, crispy skinned roast chicken thighs or a beautiful piece of seared salmon.
If you’re feeling a little more inspired and have some time, try it with one of these fabulous entrees
- Braised Chicken Provencal
- Herb Crusted Pork Rib Roast
- Deboned Whole Chicken with Spinach, Mushrooms and Gruyere
We thought it was perfect with our coffee rubbed tri-tip and spring salad with citrus vinaigrette and I’ll do my best to get those recipes on the blog soon! In the meantime, here’s a photo of the Almost Flourless Bittersweet Chocolate Cake we had for dessert that I’ll be posting next.
I’d love to hear how this turns out for you and what you serve it with! Let me know in the comments or tag me on Instagram or Fb @breathingandcooking with your pictures!
And don’t forget to pause and make time for The Good Stuff this week…life is too short to save it all for the weekends ❤️
Creamy Fennel and White Beans with Lemony Bread Crumbs
- 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
- 2 large fennel bulbs
- 1 large shallot
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 (13.5-14 ounce) jars/cans cannellini beans
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons fresh, whole thyme leaves
- 1 cup panko crumbs
- 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- kosher salt and pepper
- zest from one lemon
Preheat oven to 425°f.
- Trim and core fennel bulbs (reserve some of the fronds for garnishing). Slice lengthwise into 1/4" strips (see notes for step by step directions), chop shallot and mince garlic.
- Heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in heavy, wide shallow pan or heat proof casserole over medium heat. Add fennel, season with kosher salt and cracked pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add shallots reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until fennel begins to soften and is golden in spots, about 10 more minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, until fragrant.
- While vegetables are cooking empty one jar of beans with it's liquid into the container of a blender. Add 3/4 cup heavy cream, 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice and 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Puree until smooth.
- Drain and rinse remaining can of beans and add to the fennel mixture. Stir in pureed beans and season to taste with salt and pepper. Taste and add a little more lemon juice if needed.
- In a separate bowl combine panko, parmesan, lemon zest and 3 Tablespoons of olive oil. Combine well using your fingers to distribute olive oil evenly and moisten crumbs. Taste and season with salt and pepper to your preference (you may not need any salt, the parmesan cheese has plenty).
- Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over beans. Slide into hot oven and bake 20 minutes, until top is golden and edges are bubbly.
- Sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds and additional thyme if desired.
- Great northern beans are a good substitute for cannellini beans, but may be a little less creamy. I don't recommend navy beans as they tend to fall apart and you want the beans to hold their shape during cooking.
- I LOVE the Jovial brand of cannellini beans for this recipe. They come in a glass jar and have a great flavor and texture
- To prep fennel, cut off root end and just between the stalks on top and the bulb. Cut through bulb from top to bottom. Remove hard wedge shaped core. Lay bulbs flat side down and slice into 1/4 inch strips lengthwise. See post for pictures and link to video on preparing fennel.
Ohhh, this sounds amazing! I love fennel but can’t always find it in the stores. Can’t wait to try this.
Thank you, Brandi, I hope you’re able to find it and that you get a chance to make this soon! Fennel doesn’t get the attention it deserves so it’s always nice to hear from fellow fennel lovers 🙂