Potato and fennel dauphinois

by Sarah on April 18, 2012

potato and fennel daupinous (gratin) I used individual serving dishes to reheat the dauphinois

Matza may be the symbolic food of Passover but the potato is the star.

For many observant Jews it is one of the few foods that can be eaten during the week of Passover when leavened products become taboo (bread, pasta, crackers and any other food containing grains). Those following Ashkenazi tradition also refrain from eating kitniot, a prohibition of legumes such chickpeas, beans, fava beans and lentils as well as rice and corn.

wild fennel, Israel Wild fennel growing in Israel, the Jerusalem Hills region

Taking advantage of the potato’s elevated status during the holiday season the board of potato growers in Israel decided to host a festival in honor of this much loved tuber.  “Come with your entire family” the website urges “with fun activities for all ages” including competitions, harvesting and an extensive display of potato varieties.

While Passover rituals have been conducted from antiquity, many of the food restrictions are a relatively new development. Potatoes are endemic to the Andes and didn’t exist in Europe until the Spaniards introduced them in the 16th century. Without this staple, the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe probably had a very different level of stringency regarding kitniot.

potato field in Israel Potato fields in the northern Negev Israel

Today potatoes are an important agricultural crop, with 150,000 dunam (37,065 acres) grown throughout the country, half of which is reserved for export. Agricultural breeding projects have helped to acclimatize this high altitude plant to the Middle East with fifty new species tested every year in experimental plots. However, I have yet to see Idaho’s famous Russet potato, the most difficult culinary transition Americans have to endure.

Israeli potato Typical white potato in Ramle Market, Israel

The golden spud is a ubiquitous ingredient in traditional and modern kitchens and have become integral part of Israeli cuisine. A favorite way of eating them are as French fries, perched on top falafel or shawarma sandwiches. More elegant establishments might use a food mill to churn out perfectly fluffy mashed potatoes (I chucked my mill years ago- an annoying gadget-and am happy with a lumpy mash). In the last fifteen years there has also been a strong French influence in Israeli cooking with many European trained chefs inspiring a new culinary genre.

On that note I would like to share a French dauphinois recipe (scalloped potatoes originally from the Dauphiné region of France) for the April in Paris monthly mingle hosted by Jamie Schler of Life’s a Feast.

potato and fennel dauphinois


Potato and fennel dauphinois

(scalloped potatoes with fennel)

I once tried using béchamel sauce instead of cream and the results were less than satisfactory. The potatoes in Israel are sometimes water logged, especially after a good rainy winter and I suspect part of the reason why the dish was not a huge success. Here I used cream and milk instead, much better suited to the local potatoes.

6-7 potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly (you might need more or less depending on the size of the potato and baking dish being used)

3 large fennel bulbs, washed and sliced thinly (note, sometimes they need to be washed after slicing to thoroughly clean them)

1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream

½ cup or more of milk if needed

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

½ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon freshly ground grated nutmeg

100 grams of kashkaval or parmesan cheese, grated (sometimes I use an aged goat cheese as well)

Clay pot of 25 cm diameter or another oven proof dish

Preheat the oven to 165°C. In a small pot add the heavy cream and salt and heat on low until the salt is dissolved. Add the remainder of the spices. Layer the potatoes and fennel, slightly overlapping in one or two layers. Cover the potatoes with the cream and add enough milk so that it comes to about ¾ of the way up the sides. Too much and the potatoes will be swimming. Place the lid on the baking dish or cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork. Cover with the the grated cheese and continue to bake until golden brown and bubbly.


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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Jamie April 19, 2012 at 12:00 am

Wonderful! First, what an entertaining post and as an Ashkenazi Jew I even learned a few things! But I am most fascinated by that potato festival promising fun for all ages! We love potato gratin and potato dauphinois and I absolutely love the addition of one of my favorite vegetables, fennel! Gorgeous dish and perfect for my Monthly Mingle! So so happy you could bring this to the fête! x


Sarah April 19, 2012 at 12:07 am

Thanks Jamie! I know some who would not touch this dauphinois because of the addition of fennel. The reactions are as strong as cilantro/coriander, either you love it or hate it. Looking forward to see what everyone else will be bringing.


Rosa April 19, 2012 at 12:33 am

A fabulous combination of ingredients and flavors! So mouthwatering.




Turkey's For Life April 19, 2012 at 1:27 am

Looks very tempting again, Sarah. The potato gets such bad press these days amongst the ‘aaarrrrgggh-it’s-a-carb’ crowd. Personally, I love a good carb and potatoes are staple in our house! There’s no potato fear in Turkey. :) Glad to see they’re so revered in Israel. Is that year-round or just for Passover?


Sarah April 19, 2012 at 1:30 am

Thanks Julia, Year round for sure by all ethnic groups. They are often added to Maklouba, a traditional Palestinian dish and are always found at the grill restaurants (here they are called chips) and almost every other eatery in one form or another.


Simone April 19, 2012 at 5:41 am

I love a good potato gratin and dauphinois is one of my favorites. interesting facts you shared too!


Sarah April 19, 2012 at 7:14 am

Thanks Simone!


usha April 19, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Hi Sarah
I loved this post and all the new things I have learnt.
While fennel seeds are part of the spice rack in every Indian lkitchen and a component of the ubiquitous ‘Garam Masala’ you would be hard put to find fennel bulbs in the market and I cannot imagine why. The seeds are commonly used as a mouth freshener and served after a meal (along with the bill ) in almost every eatery, except in the swish ones, poncy ones.


Eha April 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Am softly laughing! I am one of those terrible ones who does not eat potatoes nor even use cream, but I absolutely love fennel, think this dish looks lovely and, as a Lutheran turned Buddhist, am so glad to learn some matters new about Jewish customs again! Thanks so much!


Padhu April 19, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Lovely pictures and a nice recipe


Adrian ( What the Heck is Filipino Food) April 19, 2012 at 11:39 pm

You have just made my friday! These scones would make the perfect 3pm snack at work


Sally - My Custard Pie April 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Lovely comfort food at its best. Really enjoyed the pictures of the vegetables and fields in the Spring sunshine.


Lael Hazan @educatedpalate April 21, 2012 at 5:02 am

Fabulous photos and post! I learned a lot and want to see pictures of the spud festival. I rarely make scalloped potatoes but you’ve inspired me. I do have a question, how ubiquitous is the potato in middle eastern cooking now? We’ve found a journal that is at least 55 years old where Giuliano’s grandmother (who was born in Beruit) has a recipe for Latkahs. His other grandmother, born in Turkey and Sephardic, also made Latkahs. I was truly surprised.


Sarah April 21, 2012 at 11:49 am

Thanks Lael,
Potatoes are a very common ingredient in the Middle East although wheat (in the form of semolina, flour, bulgur, cracked wheat and berries) and rice are more pervasive in their cuisine. A few examples: Potato kubbeh are made in Iraq, in Iran they often use potatoes to line the bottom of a pot of rice, roasted potatoes are popular in Syria and here Arabs make use of them in maklouba and cold potato salad with herbs and olive oil. Jews from across the world have introduced a myriad of potato recipe to Israel, from the latkes you mentioned to Tunisian mafroum (stuffed potatoes). Syrian and Lebanese Jews and Arabs prepare potatoes in a similar ways. I didn’t realize that Syrians also made latkes but I opened Poopa Dwecks Aromas of Aleppa and she includes a potato pancake recipe as well. The Spaniards introduced the crop only after Jews and Muslim were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula so the Jews first came in contact with potatoes afterwards, perhaps in Italy or Poland but I am not positive. I am not sure for example what role the Ottoman Empire played in the spread of the potato or that of the perpetual wandering Jews.


Eha April 21, 2012 at 5:27 pm

What an interesting explanation to Lael Hazan. I had absolutely no idea potatoes are used so widely in the Middle East, tho’ have loved the latkes served by Jewish friends. Really have to look for recipes of Arabic potato salad and the Tunisian mafroum. Perhaps the foodie in me will overcome the nutritionist :D !


cookingrookie April 26, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Oh yes, my kind of meal! Love it! It’s been a while since I made those, thanks for the reminder! Great photos too, as always :-)


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