stazione termini fennel

They say nobody works in Rome, but this is clearly not true. Lately when dr bob hits town, time is too short and there always seems to be too many things to get done at the university, although the ultimate meaning of these academic goings on is anything but obvious. With time pressure pushing bob's mental schedule, it is difficult to make the daytime telephone connections to commit to evening socializing. Perhaps the growing inflexibility of an aging temporary American in Rome, faced with a shortening annual summer visit that can no longer accommodate all the people from his accumulated past friendships. Who to call? When to commit to an evening? The more time goes by, the harder it gets. How to explain all those skipped years?

The day draws to a close. Darkness falls. The computer session terminates. dr bob is alone. The central train station beckons. The cafeteria La Piastra run by the Ferrovia dello Stato (Italian state train company) is conveniently located at the main train station and city public transportation hub a few blocks away, so one can eat and run, busing or metro-ing off to bed in any direction. The food is not great but it is Italian, immediate, reasonably priced, and maybe even healthy, depending on the choices. No need to wait around endlessly to be served or for the next dish to arrive, alone. And an interesting mix of other customers to study. Many tourists, some Italians, of widely different origin and social status.

So one of these frequent evening dinners offered bob baked/broiled finocchio as a side dish to the meat and chicken dishes he so religiously avoids. bob usually does vegetarian in Italian restaurants. Choosing from pasta, risotto, soup, veggies, fresh mozzarella, etc. The fennel was simple. It seemed to have been baked with butter and parmigiano. bob gave it a try. Liked it. And so back in the states baked fennel was on the agenda for experimentation.

The first attempt was a baked potato and fennel gratin loosely based on a Williams-Sonoma junk mail catalog recipe that just happened along upon bob's return. heavy on cream, and apparently the baking time was too short to tenderize the fennel. The second attempt jettisoned the complications. Steaming the fennel first for about 20 minutes and then broiling it with some butter and parmigiano until browned. Tender. Tasty. We see more fennel in our future.


1 fennel bulb, trimmed and coarsely chopped
2 T melted butter (heavy) or olive oil (lighter) or just olive oil cooking spray (lightest)
2 T freshly grated parmigiano


  1. Wash the fennel and trim away the celery like stuff at the top. Cut off the hard bottom and peel the layers off the bulb, cutting the pieces roughly into 2 in by 3/4 in strips.
  2. Steam for about 20 minutes until tender when tested with a fork.
  3. Spread them out in an oven dish, like a small quiche dish, and drizzle or spray with the melted butter or olive oil and then sprinkle with the grated parmigiano.
  4. Broil for about 10 minutes until browned but not burned. (Watch frequently.)


  1. Feeds about 2 hungry people as a generous veggie side.
  2. Rita's mom apparently does it this way layering the fennel with butter and parmigiano, but BAKES it, since according to rita, broiling is an American cooking technique, not Italian. Eliana's mom says you can add some béchamel sauce and finish with a layer of bread crumbs, and that in the final baking phase one can put it in the "grill position" to make a "crosticino" (crust) by browning the bread crumb topping, which sounds like broiling to me. Milvia's mom confirms the béchamel option.
  3. In case you are unfamiliar with fennel, it looks like celery from Chernobyl: a big white onion like layered base of celery textured material with little green celery stalk like protrusions shooting out the top.
  4. Fennel is the origin of the flavor anise and also of the national alcoholic beverage of Lebanon called Arak. The latter served on the rocks (with ice) in small glasses with equal parts water. Often offered to dr bob before dinner at the in-laws. Where it usually has more of an effect than such a small glass would lead you to believe. And then induces sleep. Fortunately dr bob travels with a designated driver. [Oops, nevermind... anise and fennel are not from the same plant.]
  5. bob's stazioni termini dining was later raised to a new level by the Jubilee Year 2000 renovations in Rome that brought the Autogrill Ciao' cafeteria style restaurant to the train station. Fast slow food of remarkable quality.
fennelst.htm: 7-aug-2001 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]