A few days ago we were taking a long walk through Palisades Park in Santa Monica, to the “totem pole” at the north of the park, then down through the canyon and back home. On this route and throughout Samo Canyon there is an abundance of wild fennel (anise). It’s everywhere and the smell is literally intoxicating.
Here in California, fennel is considered a weed, albeit a delicious one! You are probably familiar with the fennel bulb and seeds, but the flowers are also edible and the pollen is a supernatural, aromatic spice. If you’re fortunate enough to live near wild fennel, take advantage of the opportunity to forage. This is a particular imperative when you consider that the price of fennel pollen is nearly as expensive as saffron. This is because it takes hundreds of fennel flowers to produce even a small amount of the pollen. The flavor is incredible, like taking the fennel seed, sweetening it and then intensifying it a hundred times. In an article for Saveur magazine, Peggy Knickerbocker wrote, “If angels sprinkled a spice from their wings, this would be it.” She writes:“I first encountered fennel pollen in the Tuscan village of Panzano-in-Chianti, where butcher Dario Cecchini harvests it from fennel growing wild in the region and uses it to flavor the pork and poultry that he sells. Its heady, honeylike, herbaceous aroma was so intoxicating that I bought several bags of the stuff. Back home in San Francisco, I sprinkled a pinch of it on fish before grilling. I scattered a bit over roasted vegetables, and then I tried it on a pork roast. The effect, in every case, was positively transformative.”
Fennel also has purportedly amazing health benefits, including relieving respiratory ailments, improving digestion and immunity, and improving your libido and decreasing your appetite!!! Read all about them here. Last week I made a tea using wild anise fronds and seeds, with honey and lemon. It was very floral and delicious and it really did have some digestive benefits I noticed.
Then, as I read more about various uses of the whole plant, I decided to take a massive foraging walk to harvest some fennel pollen and seeds.
High summer is a busy time if you are into fennel because the plant is setting seeds and is in full flower. What you do is gather the flowers, tie the stems together, and place them in a paper bag in a dry place, preferably one that gets a little sun. As the flowers dry the pollen will fall off. You can also of course dry them on newspaper or parchment paper outside, but be sure that the pollen doesn’t blow away!
Here is a wonderful deviled egg recipe using fennel poll that is very elegant and unique, perfect for a special occasion appetizer.
Makes 6 eggs (12 egg halves)
6 large eggs, hard-boiled
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (I like Sir Kensington brand)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces smoked trout (Trader Joe’s sells a great canned version, but you could also go gourmet and purchase fresh)
Dill, chervil, parsley or other herbs to garnish (I used the very peppery Upland Cress leaves)
Pinch of Fennel Pollen
Good quality, strong and fruity olive oil
Peel the eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks and place in a small bowl. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice and a couple grinds of pepper. Using your hands, break up the trout into small pieces and add to the bowl. Mash the mixture together with a fork until very smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Fit a pastry bag with a large tip and fill with the yolk mixture. Pipe into the egg white halves and garnish with fresh herbs before serving.
Drizzle olive oil over eggs and a pinch of fennel pollen. Enjoy!!!