caramelized fennel & leek cheese dip

Here’s a delicious addition to your appetizer tray. This yummy dip can be made ahead then thrown in the oven for the final step just before you’re all ready to dive in. 

caramelized fennel & leek cheese dip

The real secret behind this goodness comes from the deep caramelized flavor of the seared fennel slices. The longer they cook, the sweeter the result with a softening of the licorice flavor commonly associated with fennel.

To slice the trimmed bulb, stand it on the root end and cut vertically with a sharp knife. The small amount of root remaining will aid in keeping the slices intact while they are seared in the pan. 

caramelized fennel & leek cheese dipcaramelized fennel & leek cheese dipcaramelized fennel & leek cheese dip

While the fennel is hangin’ out on the stove, prepare the leek by slicing just the white and very light green part into thin rings. Be sure to give them a minute or two to soak in a bowl of cold water. That helps to remove any sand or grit that may be hiding deep inside. When ready, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on a paper towel to dry.

Don’t be tempted to dump the whole thing into a colander …the sand and grit would then be poured over the clean leek rings. Not a good thing.

caramelized fennel & leek cheese dipcaramelized fennel & leek cheese dipcaramelized fennel & leek cheese dip

While the leek and garlic spend a few minutes on the stove, trim the fennel slices by cutting out the root ends that tend to be tough. Place the trimmed fennel in the bowl of your food processor. 

caramelized fennel & leek cheese dip

Add the sautéed leeks to the mix along with the salt and crushed red pepper. Give them a few quick pulses just to break them down and incorporate the ingredients.

caramelized fennel & leek cheese dipcaramelized fennel & leek cheese dip

The softened brie is then added along with the shredded Parmigiano Reggiano and lemon zest. The whole thing will then be processed for 30 seconds or so until it is mostly smooth. Check for seasoning and add salt if desired.

Let’s talk about the brie cheese that will be removed from the rind. Once it comes to room temperature, it is very creamy and removing the rind is no easy task. Here’s a helpful hint …plan ahead and place the round of cold brie in the freezer for about 30 minutes or so. Just to firm it up a bit. Remove it from the freezer and immediately trim off the rind, then set the trimmed brie aside to come to room temperature.

caramelized fennel & leek cheese dipcaramelized fennel & leek cheese dip

The mixture is transferred to a small oven-safe baking dish. The shredded mozzarella is then sprinkled on top. The whole thing goes in the oven for 20 minutes or so. Just until the dip is bubbly and the mozzarella is melted and browned. It’s a thing of beauty.

caramelized fennel & leek cheese dipcaramelized fennel & leek cheese dip

Allow me to suggest an amazing companion to this warm creamy flavorful dip. Grilled bread. It really is the ultimate combo. Just grab a loaf of French bread and slice it down. Lightly brush each side with some extra-virgin olive oil and brown both sides in your grill pan. If you don’t have a grill pan, you can achieve similar results in a regular pan over medium-high heat. Keep a close eye on it so that it doesn’t over-brown.

Now imagine this …you have some of this cheesy dip left over. It’s not likely but it can happen. Try spreading a generous amount on your next hot pork sandwich. Maybe add a few roasted peppers and you have perfection.

caramelized fennel & leek cheese dip

caramelized fennel & leek cheese dip

Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6 to 8 servings, as an appetizer
Author Rosemary Stelmach

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced * (about 24 ounces)
  • 2 leeks (white & light green parts), thinly sliced (about 3 ounces)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 7 ounces brie cheese, at room temperature ** (removed from the rind)
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano (about 2 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (about 1 ounce)
  • bread or crackers, for serving

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

  2. In a large skillet, set over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. When hot, add the fennel slices and sear on both sides, for about 1 to 2 minutes per side. You may need to do this in batches depending on how big your skillet is. See note below for slicing the root end off each slice. After you’re done with the fennel, transfer it to the bowl of your food processor.

  3. In the same skillet, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the sliced leeks and cook, mixing often, until softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer the leek mixture to the food processor along with salt and red pepper flakes. Give it a few quick pulses just to break them down and incorporate the ingredients.

  4. Add the softened brie cheese, shredded Parmigiano Reggiano, and lemon zest. Pulse until mostly smooth, about 30 seconds. Check for seasoning and add salt if desired.

  5. Transfer to a small oven-safe baking dish. Top with the shredded mozzarella cheese and place in the oven until the cheese is melted and browned on top, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately with slices of bread or crackers.

Recipe Notes

 

* To slice the trimmed fennel bulb, stand it on the root end and cut vertically with a sharp knife. The small amount of root remaining will aid in keeping the slices intact while they are seared in the pan.  Once cool enough to handle, trim the fennel slices by cutting out the root ends that tend to be tough.

** Once the brie cheese comes to room temperature, it is very creamy and removing the rind is no easy task. Plan ahead and place the round of cold brie in the freezer for about 30 minutes or so. Just to firm it up a bit. Remove it from the freezer and immediately trim off the rind, then set the trimmed brie aside to come to room temperature.

caramelized fennel & leek cheese dip

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