midsummer Farm

RECIPE:  Fennel Pollen Cream Sauce
2 tbsp olive oil  
2 cloves garlic  
1/4 cup shallots, minced  
1-1/2 tsp fennel pollen  
2 cups heavy cream  
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese  
Salt and white pepper to taste  
1 lb pasta  - I particularly like this with Fettuccine

In a medium skillet, heat olive oil and add garlic and shallots. Sauté over medium-low heat until soft but not browned, Add fennel pollen, cream and parmesan cheese. Heat to a simmer, stir often, and let reduce by about 1/3, or until you like the thickness. Taste and add salt and white pepper if needed.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta. When the sauce is done, add the drained pasta. (I always reserve a bit of the pasta water just in case the sauce gets too thick.) Stir to combine and serve immediately. 


RECIPE:  Fennel Pollen Crusted Pork Loin

1 pork loin 
4-5 tbsp of fennel pollen 
1 tbsp coarse sea salt 
2 tbsp coarse ground black pepper

In a small bowl, mix equal parts fennel pollen, salt, and coarse black pepper. Rub onto the pork loin and let sit for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350.

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan to smoking and sear the pork loin on all sides.

Place in an oven proof pan and roast 35-45 minutes until n instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part registers 145.

Transfer to a cutting board, and let rest at least 5 minutes before thinly slicing.


RECIPE:  Scallops in Fennel Pollen
From Italian Cooking and Living, October/November 2001

For each serving: 
1 golden beet, peeled and cut into 1/2"-dice 
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
1/2 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, halved 
3 diver scallops 
1 teaspoon fennel pollen 
salt and freshly ground black pepper 
1 teaspoon salted capers, rinsed

Preheat the oven to 350°. Toss the beet with the olive oil in a roasting pan and roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Heat a cast iron pan over high heat 5 minutes; cook the tomato, cut side down,10 minutes. Remove to a plate.

Dredge the scallops in the fennel pollen, coating both sides. Sear the scallops in the hot pan until golden on both sides, turning once, about 3 minutes per side. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange on a plate, sprinkle with capers - Serve hot.2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Fennel bulbs, fronds and stalks removed, cored, and cut into eighths (reserve fronds)
6-10 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 cup water or stock
2 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Add 1 tbsp oil to skillet. Add fennel and garlic; cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add water and cook until fennel is tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and 1 tbsp remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped fronds.




Fennel Flowers or Pollen! 
Fennel flowers or Fennel pollen has been referred to as the Spice of Angels. The flavor is quite unique and is a mainstay of southern Italian and Sicilian cooking. Wild fennel, which is also known as Sicilian or Calabrese fennel or Finocchio Selvatico has the most flavor. This type of fennel never forms a bulb though, from a culinary perspective, it only grown for the pollen and seeds.

You can use the pollen or flowers, fresh, frozen, or dried. You can sprinkle on top of fish, or over in rice, pasta, or risotto dishes. You can sprinkle it on warm potatoes before serving. It adds flavor to a steamed mussel or clam broth. Really goes well with any seafood. This pungent pollen is a complex flavor combining the sweetness of fennel with a deep, musty, floral-ness.

I probably use it most by simply sprinkling it fresh over warm pasta. I add some salt and pepper and olive oil. It is simple and absolutely addictive.

RECIPE: Fennel and Clams

1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, casing removed (optional)
10-12 small red potatoes, cut in half
3 fennel bulbs, fronds and stalks removed, cored, and cut into eighths (reserve fronds)
1 small leek, washed well and cut into rounds
1/4 cup Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur (optional - white wine works fine too)
1 1/2 cups clam juice
salt and pepper to taste
2 - 2-1/2 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed
2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped or 1 can of diced tomatoes.
1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves, coarsely chopped (or you can use parsley if you can't find tarragon or a combo is nice too)

In a dutch oven over medium heat, saute garlic and sausage (if using), about 5 minutes or until garlic is soft and flavorful but not browned. Transfer to a bowl, and drain all but 1 tbsp of any fat in pot. (If you didn't use sausage, you may have to add a dash more oil.).

Arrange potatoes in the pot, cut side down. Cook 5-7 minutes or until brown, then add fennel and stir around potatoes, and cook another 15 minutes or so until the vegetables  are tender when poked with a fork. Stir often.

Add leeks, Pernod or wine, and clam juice. Cook until leeks are softened, about 5 minutes. Return garlic and sausage meat to pan; add tomatoes, mix to combine and get everything nice and hot. Then add clams, cover, and cook about 5-10 minutes until clams open. Discard unopened clams. Stir in tarragon/parsley, and serve.

RECIPE:  Fennel Garlic Side Dish
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Fennel bulbs, fronds and stalks removed, cored, and cut into eighths (reserve fronds)
6-10 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 cup water or stock
2 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Add 1 tbsp oil to skillet. Add fennel and garlic; cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add water and cook until fennel is tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and 1 tbsp remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped fronds.



RECIPE: Roast Chicken and Fennel

1 chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds), rinsed and patted dry
Coarse salt and plenty of fresh ground black pepper
2 lemons, quartered
3-4 garlic cloves
1 medium or large onion, quartered
2 to 3 fennel bulbs, fronds and stalks removed, cored, and cut into 1-inch wedges (reserve fronds)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Season inside and outside of chicken with salt and pepper. Place garlic and 2 lemon quarters inside chicken. Place chicken upside down (breast down) on a large rimmed baking sheet. Add fennel, onion, and remaining lemons to sheet and toss with oil.

Roast for 40 minutes. Then flip chicken over, spoon some of the juices over it, toss the veggies, and put the pan back in oven another 10 minutes. Check temperature - an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of a thigh (avoiding bone) should register 165. Once it is done, transfer chicken and flip upside down again to a platter. Cover loosely and let rest 10 minutes. Then, carve the chicken, sprinkle with some fresh fronds, and serve with the fennel, onions, and lemons.

Place fennel bulbs in a single layer in a roasting pan cut side up. Sprinkle some olive oil over them evenly and cut up the 2 tbsp of butter and distribute evenly over the bulbs. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and onion powder over them. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 45 minutes to an hour. Test for done-ness by sticking a fork into the core part of the bulb - if it is tender, they are ready to come out.

Meanwhile, boil potatoes in salted water until tender (about 12-20 minutes). Once potatoes are done, drain, put back into pot, and steam-dry them by shaking and stirring the over low heat just until a light film coats bottom of pot (about 3 minutes).

Let things get cool enough to handle, but keep warm. Add fennel and potatoes and 4 additional tbsp of butter to food processor or blender and process until smooth and well mixed. Also add some of the fennel fronds at this point for some green. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with more finely chopped fennel fronds sprinkled over top.

One of the most dramatic cooking transformations I have experienced was with roasting fennel bulbs. The fennel bulbs, and especially the core which is too hard to even bite when the fennel is raw, transform into a silky texture with artichoke like flavor when roasted. The below is a festive roasted fennel recipe for the holidays!


RECIPE: Roasted Fennel and Potato Purée


about 4-6 fennel bulbs, cleaned, leaves removed but saved, and cut in half (reserve fronds)
about 4 tbsp olive oil
about 2 tbsp butter
about 1 tbsp of onion powder
salt and pepper
1/2 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into similarly-sized chunks
another 4 tbsp butter for processing
salt and pepper taste


RECIPE: Orange and Fennel Salad

1 fennel bulb, trimmed, reserving 1 to 2 tablespoons fronds
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 oranges
1/4 cup small olives, such as Nicoise or Kalamata
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Red-pepper flakes

Halve, core, and thinly slice bulb (preferably on a mandoline). In a bowl, toss fennel with 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.

Slice away peel and pith of oranges and cut flesh into segments. Add to bowl with fennel and stir in olives, reserved fennel fronds, and extra-virgin olive oil. Season with coarse salt, ground pepper, and red-pepper flakes.



Cooking with Fennel 
Fennel is lovely eaten raw - even just simply sliced and eaten like carrot sticks. I take off the tough outer layers and cut the core out of the center. It is especially nice with some sea salt and black pepper sprinkled over it. If you can find truffle salt, or Urfa Pepper Flakes or some other dark, dried, and sweated pepper flakes, they are magical sprinkled over raw fennel slices. 


An after-dinner serving of raw fennel slices is a tradition European digestive.

Like a lot of other vegetables, you can get a whole new experience if you shave or very thinly slice fennel bulbs. I usually use a mandoline for this, but you can do it easily enough with patience and a good knife.

Salads constructed with shaved fennel slices, citrus, apple, and bitter greens like arugula are simply wonderful. Fennel and lemon go very well together. Also you can incorporate lots of the sweet, frilly green fronds into your salad.

When I clean a fennel, I usually save some of the larger stems and freeze them for when I make a vegetable stock. A fennel stem is very useful for sweetening up a vegetable stock - really balances the sometimes too-bold cabbage and turnip flavors. Recipes below...

Garden Beneficial
Fennel is a great companion plant and medicinal plant for your garden. It is a prime attractor of beneficial insects. Lady bugs as well as many beneficial wasp species love the nectar of the fennel flowers. I always see some ladybugs or ladybug larvae on my fennel plants.

Also, the fennel plant is a food source for Black Swallowtail caterpillars. So if you see a small caterpillar on your fennel - don't squish it - it won't eat too much and it will turn into one of the largest and most flashy of North American butterflies.

Storing
Dried seeds can be stored in a dry, dark, cool place. Fronds and green seed pods can be simply frozen. Bulbs don't freeze particularly well if you want to eat the bulb raw, but you can adequately freeze bulbs that you will be cooking or roasting or stalks you want to save for a stock. And the fresh bulbs do keep well in the fridge for a long time.

Fennel Oil
Fennel Oil is very potent and strong. It should not be consumed internally. However it is an excellent ingredient for adding to a salve as it eases muscular as well as rheumatic pain. I put it, as well as Anise essential oil, in many of my herbal healing salves.

RECIPE: Fennel Frond-and-Flower Water


I like to add a some herbs to a cold pitcher of ice water. It is pretty and festive and adds flavor and medicinal phyto-chemicals to the water. Fennel fronds and flowers are not only very attractive in a pitcher of water, but they also add a lovely sweet licorice flavor. I particularly like to add some chopped cucumber or some lemon balm as well.

You can also use the dried brown seeds for tea. The dried seeds are stronger, medicinally-speaking. To make tea with the dried seeds, it is best to crush them slightly in a mortar and pestel and then let them steep in the hot water for 10-15 minutes. But I much prefer the flavor of the fresh fennel in tea and find it perfectly useful for my needs.

Fennel is also used for alleviating heartburn and for reducing gas pains and flatulence.

It is an effective respiratory tonic as well as an anti-spasmodic - It greatly helps in breaking up bronchial mucus and making a cough more productive. I find that there is nothing better than a tea made of fennel fronds and elecampane root for getting rid of a lingering, stubborn cough after a cold or flu.

Fennel is also well-known for its effectiveness in healing and recovering after giving birth and increasing milk production.

I feel that the best way to take advantage of all these wonderful healing and balancing aspects of fennel is to both drink it regularly as a tea and incorporate it into my meals as much as possible. I try to aim to have a cup of tea every night and in a meal once a week. Scroll down for some of my favorite fennel recipes...

RECIPE: Fennel Frond Tea

~about 3-6 small fronds and/or green seed heads of fennel
~1 cup of hot water

Bring some water to a boil. Place fennel fronds and/or seed heads into a tea cup. Pour water over and let steep about 5-10 minutes. And enjoy.

Fennel is probably best known and most recommended for its ability to aid indigestion. Serving the raw sliced bulb after a big holiday dinner is slightly effective and festive and could be considered a palette cleanser. But eating the fennel in a salad before consuming the big meal would work better for jump starting the metabolism and aiding in digestion. And the bulb is less medicinal than the fronds and seeds, so drinking a tea of fennel fronds or seeds would be the best way to take advantage of this herb's use as a digestive.

If I feel over-full or just like the food I ate for dinner is just sitting in my stomach in the evening, I make a quick cup of fennel tea and it usually fixes the feeling within minutes. Fennel makes digestion more fruitful. It boosts the metabolism. So it also can also help people combat obesity. If you use bitters as a digestive aid, you'll find that adding sweet fennel will balance the bitter flavor and enhance the overall effect.

Medicinal Uses
Fennel was first used mostly as a medicinal herb. And it is an effective, safe, and wonderful herb to use. Its sweet flavor makes it very palatable for most people and even children. I use it mostly as a tea that I drink mainly as a tonic for general health, balance, and well-being. I usually use fresh fronds or green seeds for the tea.

Fennel is considered a strengthening and longevity herb. Great for strengthening the eyes, veins, circulatory system, etc. Fennel is rich in bioflavonoids and antioxidants, so this makes a lot of sense. It is, like many plant foods, a cleanser for the blood and liver. Fennel revitalizes and rejuvenates. Regular consumption of fennel has been linked to skin health, heart health, and reproductive health. Early herbalists often prescribed fennel for melancholy...

Growing Fennel for Fronds, Flowers, Pollen, Seeds
Even if trying for bulbs is just too much for you, you should still grow fennel. If you're not worrying about the bulbs, fennel is super-easy to grow around here. If you pick a variety from the middle to northern areas of Italy, it will even naturalize and self-seed for years to come. I have a giant fennel plant in the greenhouse that grows as a perennial - if I didn't cut it back, it would grow right through the roof!

To plant fennel for frond production, simply spread the seeds in a prepared spot in your garden in late April or early May. Or for more dependability, you could also start with seedlings or start your seeds inside the house under lights to get a jump on the season.


More on Fennel Pollen and Recipes below...

Growing Fennel for Bulbs 
Fennel season in Italy is traditionally mid autumn through the winter and early spring, it is grown and used as a holiday or winter vegetable like Cardoons, Artichokes, Puntarelle, and Radicchios and Endives. Around here, Fennel would need to be grown and timed a little differently to make up for the difference in climate. My most successful fennel bulbs are grown in the greenhouse, and I can usually harvest them between Thanksgiving and Christmas. When I grow them outside in the main garden, the temperature and its fluctuations has a huge impact on how successfully the bulbs develop. I start fennel seeds indoors under lights in February, and plant them out as seedlings in late March. I harvest the bulbs at what ever size they are before I hear that temperatures will reach 85-90 degrees F. Fennel bulbs develop best in cool temperatures and will get tough and start to bolt in hot weather. So don't wait for a big bulb - plan your harvest according to temperature. A small fennel bulb is just as delicious as a large one. I plant a lot so even if they are very small, I'll still get plenty.

I also try to plant some seedlings again in early September outside in the garden - this fall has been cool, but mild and long, so the fennels are looking pretty promising right now. But if the temperature got very cold or very warm, they probably wouldn't have done well at all.

One other note - I usually plant my fennel for bulbs in a slight trench, so I can pull more soil up over the bulbs (about half-way) once I see they are starting to form. Like celery, which I usually plant in the same row, fennel will need lots of water to form tender bulbs and plenty of compost as well. Don't even try to pull the fennel bulbs up to harvest - they form gigantic tap roots! Just push the soil back to expose the bottom of the bulb and cut the bulb part off the tap root with a knife.

History
The craziness of how to distinguish different fennels is because of fennel's ancientness and the changes in how it has been used over the ages. Fennel has been a flavoring and herb developing alongside humanity for hundreds of years. The earliest written recorded use of fennel was in 961 AD in Spain, but it was being used in one form or another for hundreds of years before that.

Historically fennel was a more wild plant and was cultivated and bred originally for quantity of seeds and quality of the oil the seeds produce. It was in Italy in the past couple centuries where it started to be cultivated and developed for bulb production. Currently fennel is used more for its bulb, although I personally probably consume the shoots or fronds and the yellow flowers more than any other part of the fennel.

The nomenclature is a bit crazy for fennel. American botanists tend to think of fennel being a single species - Foeniculum vulgare - with many subspecies or cultivated variations, but Italian botanists have branched out the genus of fennel into a plethora of up to 10 species each with their own variations. So to avoid confusion, I don't refer to the fennel varieties I sell at my Plant Sales by their Latin names. I usually buy all Italian heirloom seeds (Finocchio) and refer to each variety according to where it was developed in Italy.

Fennel

Fennel is a wonderful plant - it is one of my favorite herbs and favorite vegetables.

First of all, I want to mention that fennel is a different plant from Anise. Fennel and Anise are both members of the same family of plants, but Anise never gets a bulb. Anise and fennel seeds and fronds look and smell and taste very similar with a sweet-licorice flavor. They are actually used very similarly both in cooking and medicinally, which may be why they have gotten so mixed up in people's minds.


Anise Hyssop is totally unrelated to Fennel and Anise - its name is only referring to its flavor, which is similar to anise.


(I had to mention this, because the last time I bought some fennel in the super market and tried to check myself out, I couldn't find fennel under F in the cash register - I had to go to A and use the price code for anise!)