Until we moved to California 5 years ago, my primary exposure to fennel was in Tom’s of Maine’s toothpaste (love that flavor!) But I came to know it in its natural state shortly after we arrived in Berkeley because the plant grows wild all over the east bay. There was a huge stand of it growing in the strip of dry dirt that flanked the sidewalk right across from our house in North Berkeley. And I’d be bombarded by the tall green stalks and yellow flowers any time I went for a walk at the Albany Bulb. Here’s a pic from one of my rambles there that shows the fennel plants.
I always enjoyed watching the bees go to town on the bright yellow pollen that covers the flowers. You can actually cook with the pollen – it’s considered a bit of a delicacy (maybe because it’s hand-gathered) and is good in spice rubs for meat and fish and on roasted veggies, etc. I’ve never tried it though I did help a friend gather it once from that patch across the street from my house and she reported good results from her culinary adventures.
I have not seen a ton of fennel since we left the Bay Area last summer. But just last week our new CSA, Hearty Roots Community Farm in Redhook, had the good sense to include a couple of bulbs of the stuff in our weekly allotment of fresh goodies.
I looked online for inspiration (a quick aside, if you’re ever having trouble finding good recipes, I highly recommend that you check out www.FoodBlogSearch.com as it lets you bypass a lot of the junk that comes up in a Google search) and found several recipes for roasted fennel. I liked this one from Simply Recipes because it was, well, simple, and also looked tasty, so I went with it.
The preparation is super easy – wash and cut the fennel, zest a bit of lemon, toss with olive oil, splash with balsamic vinegar or glaze, season with salt and pepper and roast. The only downside was having to turn the oven on in this heat. It was well over 90 degrees here today so firing up the oven to 400 degrees did seem certifiably insane…
But the results were divine. Roasting gives the bulbs a mellow, almost nutty sweetness and the licorice flavor is enhanced by the hint of lemon from the zest and the rich sweetness of the balsamic glaze. The only thing I might change is to sub in pomegranate molasses for the balsamic – I’ll try that next time around.
Next: the recipe