Finocchio con Latte al Forno (Fennel Braised in Milk)

3 medium bulbs fennel, fronds reserved
4 cups milk
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan


Heat oven to 475. Remove tough outer layer of fennel. Halve bulbs lengthwise and cut into 1?2? wedges. Combine fennel, milk, and 2 tbsp. butter in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until fennel is just tender, 30?45 minutes. Add fennel seeds and season with salt and pepper.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer fennel to a 2-quart oval baking dish; pour 1 cup of the milk mixture over fennel. Sprinkle with Parmesan, dot with remaining butter, and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Serve fennel garnished with some of the fronds.

Gnocchi alla Romana

4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups semolina (about 8 oz.)
1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmesan
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 egg yolks, beaten
Kosher salt, to taste


In a 5-qt. pot over medium-high heat, bring milk to a simmer while stirring. Reduce heat to low; slowly whisk in semolina. Cook, whisking, until tender, 8?10 minutes. Whisk in 1/2 cup Parmesan, 4 tbsp. butter, and yolks; season with salt. Remove from heat.

Wet a 15? x 10? rimmed baking sheet with a soaked paper towel. Pour semolina mixture onto baking sheet; smooth surface with spatula to 1?2? thickness. Let cool until firm, about 40 minutes.

Heat oven to 450. Using a knife, cut gnocchi dough in 2? squares; transfer half of the squares to a buttered 9? x 13? baking pan. Sprinkle gnocchi with 1?4 cup Parmesan and dot with 2 tbsp. butter. Layer remaining gnocchi on top and sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese and remaining butter. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Serve with remaining cheese.
Serve with Finocchio con Latte al Forno

Brisket

1 (3- to 3 1/2-pound) brisket
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
5 pounds (about 10) small yellow onions, peeled and halved through the root
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup veal or chicken stock
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 celery stalks, diced
1 tomato, diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled


Preheat the oven to 300F.

Sprinkle the brisket with the seasoning and let stand for 15 minutes. Melt the butter in the bottom of a Dutch oven. Arrange the onions, cut side down, in the pot. Cook over medium heat for about 7 minutes, until well browned on the bottom. Pour the wine and stock over the onions, covering them by 1 inch. Add more stock, if necessary. Add the thyme and pepper. Bring the liquid to a simmer on the stovetop. Place the brisket, fatty side up, on top of the onions. Sprinkle the celery, tomato, and garlic over the brisket. Cover and cook in the oven, turning once, until very tender, about 3 1/2 hours.

Transfer the brisket to a serving platter and boil the braising liquid over high heat until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Puree the liquid and vegetables in a food processor and then strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Serve the sauce alongside.

Benne Wafers

* 1 cup sesame seeds, toasted
* 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 325 F. Cover cookie sheets in parchment paper, silpat sheets, or lightly oil them. Toast the sesame seeds in a heavy skillet over medium heat until they are golden brown.

Beat the brown sugar and butter together in a medium-sized bowl for several minutes until fluffy. Beat in the egg. Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder, then add these dry ingredients to the butter, sugar, egg mixture, mix well. Stir in the toasted sesame seeds, vanilla extract, and lemon juice.

(Optional): Chill the dough for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. This makes it easier to drop the cookies on the sheets.

Drop by teaspoonful onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving space for the cookies to spread. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until the edges are slightly brown. Cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheets, then transfer to a rack to continue cooling.

Makes 2-4 dozen, depending on the size of your spoonfuls.