Baked Fennel and Struffoli – A Little Bit of Italy

Baked fennel 1This post is loaded with deliciousness. My friend and Author Deborah Cater have introduced me to two new Italian dishes, and I’m glad she did.
You probably know Deborah through her articles in MunatyCooking Magazine, July and August issues.
I’ve enjoyed cooking, taking pictures, and of course eating these dishes. I hope that my photography gave these beautiful dishes justice.
Well, I better let Deborah tell you a Little bit more about the recipes and Italy.

A Little Bit of Italy – Rome and Naples

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As I make my travels across Italy I will always find time to

sample the local delicacies. I believe that to taste the

food of an area is to go some way to understanding its

culture.   In two previous articles (published in issues 18 and 19 of Munaty Cooking Magazine) I have shared risotto from Venice, squid from Pisa and veal from Milan. Now it is the turn of Rome and Naples to tantilise the tastebids.


Rome’s early history is probably better known than its

later history, but this city does not hide one period of time to the detriment of another.  Ancient Rome rubs shoulders with twentieth century Rome. The Colosseum  and Forum sit in the middle of Rome’s traffic, but there are quieter corners and it is not all expensive tourist traps – you just have to look for them. Rome’s food has been influenced by the many immigrants that have made it home. I stayed near the Campo Fiori, a food and flower market that evokes a Rome of earlier times, and just steps away from my hotel was an authentic trattoria.

A trattoria is less formal than a restaurant. In general there are no printed menus, wine is served in the decanter and the food is modest but very generous in quantity. I didn’t know that when I entered this particular trattoria and was confused as food just made its way to my table. Confusion turned to pleasure as I filled myself to bursting point on fresh, local food. One of the dishes was fennel. This is a slightly different version of the dish I was served, but just as good.

5 from 1 vote
Baked Fennel
Servings: 4
  • 750 g of fennel bulbs
  • 125 g breadcrumbs
  • 110 g unsalted butter
  • 120 ml béchamel sauce
  • 100 g grated Parmagiano cheese
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C
  2. Trim the fennel bulbs, removing the fronds and outer leaves, and cut into thin wedges.
  3. Boil fennel until tender.
  4. Drain fennel and sauté in half the butter until it is lightly browned.
  5. Place fennel into a buttered oven dish and pour over the béchamel sauce, sprinkle with the cheese.
  6. Finally sprinkle breadcrumbs over the dish and dot with the remaining butter.
  7. Cook in oven for 15 minutes until lightly browned.
  8. Serve as an accompaniment to a main dish. Also perfect for a comforting supper.

Naples is in the warm south of Italy and home of the pizza; but there is more to its palette than just that. Naples is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities, dating back to the ninth century BCE. As a microcosm of Europe’s history, its food has been influenced by the different civilizations that have been and gone.

Two of the cities local to Naples that ‘went’ in spectacular fashion were Pompeii and Herculaneum. With the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, these Roman towns were lost for centuries. Walking around these recovered cities you can get a feel for how life would have been like as so much has been preserved. Lining the main street of Pompeii are many fast food joints or Thermopolia. The shop-fronts opened into the street with counters holding jars (dolia) of the food available. Once food had been selected from the jars, it could be warmed to take away. Outside the thermopolia are pictures showing the food and drink available – fish, meat, wine etc.
Food served in the Palace of Caserta, which is the Italian equivalent to Versailles, would have been considerably richer than that of Pompeii. Built on the orders of the Bourbon king Charles III, the palace, gardens and new town of Caserta were intended to be the symbol of the kingdom of Naples. The palace is an example of decorative opulence and definitely worth a visit.
Rich, sweet dishes are a Neopolitan speciality and struffoli, traditionally served at Christmas or special occasions, can be as elaborately decorated as the Palace of Caserta.
400g flour
60g butter
3 eggs and 1 egg yolk
40g sugar
Dash of lemon syrup
Zest of half a lemon
Pinch of salt
350g honey
Candied fruits and sprinkles for the decoration
  • Combine the flour, salt, sugar, eggs, lemon syrup, lemon zest and butter to make a dough-
  • Knead the dough until smooth, shape into a round, cover and put aside for a minimum of 20 minutes but an hour or two if you have time.
  • Split the dough into six pieces and roll each one into a long rope.
  • Cut each rope into pieces about ¼ inch long and roll into little balls.
  • Fry the balls until they are light golden brown in colour – shallow or deep fry it is your choice.
  • Drain the balls of fat on kitchen paper.
  • Melt the honey in a pan. Take off the heat and add the balls, stirring them in so each is coated in honey. Mix in some of the decorations at this point so they coat the balls.
  • Pile the balls into a pyramid and add more edible decorations. At this point you can let your extravagant side go wild!
I have enjoyed reliving my travel experiences through Italy’s wonderful cuisine. I hope you have too. So for now, Buon Appetito and arrivederci!
Deborah Cater’s travel books, City Chronicles: ALittle Bit of Italy and CityChronicles: A Tale of Nine Cities are available from and Amazon. Formats: e-book or paperback.


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