Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is our latest maturing herb in Penelope’s Garden. The entire plant can be harvested and put to many uses. The feathery leaves can be trimmed and used any time for salads, garnish and potato salad. The stalks can be added to soups. The dried seeds are a familiar little dish presented after Indian fare to munch as an aid for digestion and freshening the breath, and a traditional ingredient in Italian style sausage. Fennel can also be used in desserts and drinks, really anytime you want to add a sweet bite of anise.
The glowing yellow flowers of bronze fennel are a generous source for pollinators. It is a host plant for the Eastern Black Swallowtail, as well as bees, wasps and flies that are always enjoying these blooms.
How to Harvest Fennel Pollen:
The pollen is a sweet version of the fennel seed with a more complex flavor and less distinct anise flavor. It can be used fresh or dried, with a complex citrusy-licorice flavor of fennel in concentrated form. Fennel pollen includes the pollen itself and the dried petals that fall from fennel blossoms as they dry.
Gently shake the seed head over a piece of paper to collect. You can gently brush two flowers against each other to collect more pollen – a little goes a long way. Store the fresh pollen in a jar in the fridge to use (soon). Dried pollen has a much milder taste. To harvest fennel pollen to dry, snip several heads of blooming fennel into a clean paper bag and place in a warm, dry place for at least a week. Give the bag a good shake, and gather the pollen and petals that accumulate in the bottom of the bag. When stored in an airtight jar in a cool, dry place, fennel pollen will store for several months.
How to Harvest Fennel Seeds:
Fresh, green seeds are juicy and taste like anise candy. They are a powerful highlight in any dish. Harvest ripe and dry fennel seeds when the flower heads turn brown and no later, or the seeds may fall. Snip the stems below the dry flowers, and place the flowers on a tray in a warm, dry place to finish drying out before storing them in an airtight container.
Health Benefits of Fennel:
Much of the research that has validated fennel’s health benefits has been done with fennel seeds, which are rich in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory effects. Fennel seeds have long been used to reduce intestinal gas, which is why many cooks add a few fennel seeds to the cooking water when cooking asparagus, cabbage, beans and other gas-producing foods.
Fennel Pollen Shortbread Cookies Recipe
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa
Yields 12-14 cookies
3/4 pound butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fennel pollen, plus more for rolling
In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and 1 cup of sugar
until they are just combined. Add the fennel pollen.
In a medium bowl, sift together, with a whisk, flour and salt; then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Roll into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle a generous amount of fennel pollen to cover the log. Roll in plastic wrap. Chill until firm.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Carefully slice the log into 1/4″ cookies. Place the cookies on a sheet pan covered with parchment. Bake for 11-13 minutes, until the edges, begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.