Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Separate Tables at the Fennel Blossom Cafe


While checking over the fennel today I noticed two little customers perched close to each other, a honeybee and a ladybug.

I know what the bee is up to--snagging some nectar for the honey making chores. But what about the ladybug? Do insects ever hang out just for the beauty of a particular place and for the sheer enjoyment of being there? Was the ladybug indulging in a little aromatherapy? We once noticed our cat Prima snoozing face down in the rosemary, so I suppose it's possible.

Since I planted the fennel it's grown quite large, well over six feet high. But I haven't harvested much of the actual bulb yet. Strange, since I love fennel. It makes the best summer salad, thinly shaved into a bowl with equally thinly sliced red onion and tossed in a light vinaigrette. Chopped and stirred into a pot of pasta sauce, fresh fennel bulb makes it decidedly richer.

No, I've been too busy enjoying the rest of the plant, snipping the fronds to go into salads and for garnish. And harvesting the seed, which tastes so very fine. I was amazed the first time I brought in some of the seed and used it to cook. We all know that spices in the grocery have been sitting around for who-knows-how-long?, and that they usually aren't the best for the job. But the intensity of those fennel seeds was a wonder. I toasted some in a dry pan, ground them and tossed them into some vegetable beef soup, along with some of the fresh fennel. I could have charged myself for dinner that night! It was fine!

In just a few weeks those dainty little flowers will give way to a new batch of seed...
...which will doll up dishes both sweet and savory. These same seeds that give cookies personality will add richness to sausage. And appeal to tastes as different as those I envision of the honeybee and the ladybug.


Marc said...

Do you ever harvest the fennel pollen? I see that on menus in San Francisco now and then, often as a final flavoring item. If you do harvest it, how do you use it?

Although fennel seems to grow all over the place in California, I have yet to find a good source of clean fennel (i.e., not alongside a busy road or on park land designated as "no collecting allowed").

Hungry Passport said...

Good timing, Marc. I'll be harvesting it in a few weeks, my first time to do so. I'm writing an article on fennel and its many applications for one of the Edible magazines, experimenting in the process to discover how best to use its various parts. I'm just betting that in the culinary world of if-it-grows-together-it-goes-together, fennel pollen will be great on anything that would benefit from fennel plant or fennel seed.

If you have a small bit of ground, try growing some. It's a plant that merits the real estate it occupies--it's all edible and it's pretty. I've never tried growing it in a pot, but you might get a large one and a started fennel plant from a garden center. It would look lovely in a sunny window spot or on a balcony, if that's all you have. I'd be interested to know if a large pot would be adequate for it. Of course, if you have it in your possession, you can harvest and eat without worrying about pollutants or officials.

Good luck! Please let me know how it goes. I always post pdf's of my published work on my website,, so when the fennel article appears, I'll post it there.

Cheers! Carol