Fennel Pollen - From Angels' Wings to Your Table

If angels sprinkled a spice from their wings, this would be it.

-- Peggy Knickerbocker, Saveur

 

I first wrote about Fennel Pollen in November 2007 (see my Suite101 blog, here). Mine was not sprinkled from the wings of angels, but almost. I have my very own angel. He is "the butter to my bread, the breath to my life," the Paul to my Julia-inspired self. Yes, I saw Julie/Julia last night, and there will be more on that soon, I promise. During most of the movie, I was verklempt. On the verge of tears or beyond it, overcome with emotion. Why?

One reason was my joy at seeing Meryl Streep embody Julia in a really brilliant way. Another reason was my appreciation for who Julia Child was - if not in fact - at least in the persona we saw, and for that place she occupied in my life. But really, the main reason I was welling up all the time, was my overwhelming gratitude for my luck in finding Doc. He is "my Paul." Every brilliant scene with Stanley Tucci reminded me of the book, My Life in France, and the stories of their love, their life. She was a force. Fun, determined, and when she wanted to be, disciplined. It seemed that her enthusiasm for life was endless and her positive outlook appears to have barely ever faltered. I wish it were true for me. Usually, it is. 

But, there are times when, despite my considerable resilience and positive outlook, I stumble. Sometimes, I don't even want to leave the bed for risk of stumbling. It all just seems too much work. When I feel adrift, floating toward that dark place, it can seem impossible to remember what it was that ever convinced me to get out of bed before. And I'm about the most resourceful person I know - but that thing just happens, and I forget.

Then my angel will come home with some little culinary treasure, like fennel pollen. Clever man, he's figured out the way to rekindle my spark, re-light that pilot, is to give me a new food discovery. Fennel Pollen? Never heard of it before.

Suddenly, I'm up and Googling, researching, poring over cookbooks, reference sites. I'm smelling and tasting and thinking of what I will cook. I'm thinking of what I will write about it, and how I will convey this new discovery to you. As expensive as these treats often are, I'm sure they pale in comparison to pharmaceuticals designed for this type of boost. Anyway, food finds are so much more fun, never mind more effective.

Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, belongs to the Umbelliferea family, which includes: parsley, carrots, dill and coriander. Though we typically call them fennel seeds, those little aromatic seeds are really the fruit of the plant. The pollen from the plants' flowers, well, this my friends, is something entirely different. An intoxicating aroma some describe as similar to licorice, others say curry, it carries elements of both and is both sweet like hay and honey. And yet, it's also distinct, almost toasty, really unlike anything else.

I immediately thought of fish and poultry. (I'm also dying to try it in brittle, but that's an experiment yet to come, stay tuned.)

Here is another spice find: Herbes de Provençe.

Atlantic Spice Company - Spices are one of the sticky wickets in the locavore debates. If you're really trying to eat only from a 100 mile or local food-shed and you don't happen to live near the equator, your food is going to have a lot less flavor. This is one of the "Sensible Sustainability" moments, that caused me to go "ah ha!" For me, this is how I balance the various competing goals. I'd rather enjoy spices from around the world and buy the ones I believe are grown cleanly, sustainably, and harvested with minimal damage. I'd like to support a local company and not a huge corporate grocery chain. This is how I found the Atlantic Spice guys. They're right here in the Boston area, you probably pass them en route to the Cape.

They sent me two spice blends to try, Garam Masala (they had no way of knowing I'm now blending my own) and Herbes de Provençe.  This particular blend includes: Rosemary, Thyme, Savory, Fennel Seeds, Basil, Lavender, Marjoram.

 

Now, here is how I've incorporated these two lovely new spices.

Fennel pollen and Herbes de Provence Pork Chops

These lovely center cut pork chops from DiLuigi's were coated with olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a couple table spoons of Herbes de Provence. 

Pan-seared, then finished in the oven. The fennel and raddichio were grilled. Note: when removing a pan from the oven, be very careful! If you're using the same pan to make a nice pan sauce, you may be tempted to grab that hot handle, forgetting where it just came from. (The blistering is done on my hand now, thanks to Fresh Creme Ancienne, the skin looks nearly normal. A miracle.)

 

The Turkey Hit

Another great find: Bob's Turkey Farm.

I shared on Twitter that I'd put a hit out on a turkey and was wrestling with my feelings. It was true. You call Bob's and say "I'd like a turkey breast roast, please." They ask you what size then tell you they'll have one of their turkeys killed and dressed and it'll be ready for you the next day. So, you know, I try to be a conscious carnivore and to really appreciate the life that's given for me to eat. I eat all kinds of things that once walked or flew or swam around before ending up on my plate. But this felt different. I was individually responsible for this one turkey losing its life. 

Here was our breast. Beauty, isn't it?

 And the gorgeous roast:

Here's the rub: it may have been the best tasting turkey I've ever eaten and it was certainly the freshest. My guilt, it seems, is fairly easily bought.

And the real rub. The one that gave our roast the beautiful crispy skin and golden color:

  • 3 TBSP softened butter
  • 1 TBSP Herbes de Provençe
  • 1 TBSP minced shallot
  • 1 tsp fennel pollen sprinkled over buttered breast.

Lemon, fennel, carrot, celery tops inside.

The two of us, Doc & I, had the roast turkey along with new potatoes, green beans and pistou:

 

We had a second meal of turkey, capers, lemon, wine, over campanelle. And, a third meal of turkey stew. So two of us had three meals for about $30. 

Fennel Pollen is a lovely discovery, as are The Atlantic Spice Company, and Bob's Turkey Farm. The real prize is having someone to savor it all with, someone who cares enough to push you when you need it, cajole or tempt, someone who is the butter to your bread.

Itadakimasu Mr. Turkey. Love you big, Doc.

And thanks to Julia for showing me how to be fearless in the kitchen (and elsewhere!), and how to roast a bird - Bon Appétit!