The word “fennel” derives from the Roman for “fragrant hay” and has a lovely scent. I adore the fennel bulb, shaved thin in salads, roasted with root veg, or diced into marinara. I save the fronds to top salads or fish and the middle, green stalks go into my stock bag in the freezer. Fennel pollen is said to be what angels would sprinkle from their wings.
Fennel grows or is cultivated in temperate climes the world over, but is most associated with Mediterranean and Indian cuisines. Chinese Five Spice powder includes it, as does the Bengali version, panch phoron. Italians call the plant finocchio (also a slang term for cross-dressers) and admire the flavor as well as the quality of aiding digestion.
- Back in Shakespearean times fennel was thought to ward off witches. Some believe it has magical powers including protection, longevity, purification, and healing.
- Marathon (Marathonas) is the place where the Greeks defeated the Persians in 490. It is said the fields were abundant with fennel.
- Puritans brought “meeting seeds” to chew during long sermons, dill and fennel were among them.
Clockwise from top: Bulb of fennel; fennel, celery, Granny Smith apple; fennel pollen pork chops; shaved fennel, green apple, celery salad, fennel fronds, fennel pollen.
Using Fennel Today
We now know that fennel is an excellent source of Vitamin C. It’s got antimicrobial qualities as well as potassium, and antioxidants. Many cultures value its mild anise or licorice flavor and chew the seeds after eating both for breath-freshening and to aid in digestion. Garnish fish dishes or salads with the fronds. Pork and chicken both love fennel. Try the seeds in your next rib rub. Or how about in biscuits?
Recipe: Fennel Seed - Black Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits
Teaching Kitchen Confidence clients biscuit technique is always a delight. Everyone loves a biscuit! I always recommend Nathalie Dupree's Southern Biscuits cookbook. I've modifeld her recipe ever so slightly to include a generous amount of both fennel seed and freshly ground black pepper. I also modified it to make them dairy-free, but you may feel free to use dairy.
- 2 cups AP flour (+ 1/4 cup)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tabelspoon fennel seed, crushed in a mortar and pestle
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 cup chilled shortening roughly cut into 1/4" pieces
- 1/4 cup chilled shortening roughly cut into 1/2" pieces
- 1 cup buttermilk (I use So Delicious Dairy-free Coconut milk, soured with 1-2 tablespoons Bragg's Cider Vinegar)
- softened butter for brushing
A note on ingredients: I like to use a combination of Nutiva Red Palm and Coconut Oil and Spectrum All Vegetable Shortening.
A note on technique: Perfect biscuits require attention to three Ts: Technique, Temperature, Touch. Technique - fold and pat - no kneading! Cut straight down, not turning! Temperature - cold fat. Touch - quick work makes tender biscuits.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Butter a 9" cake pan or large cast iron skillet.
- Measure your shortening and use a butter knife to scoop into 1/4" and 1/2" size pats. I wipe the knife on the edge of a bowl. Place bowl in freezer to harden the fats.
- In a large bowl, whisk 2 C of flour, baking powder, salt, spices, baking soda.
- Take the shortening out and pinch the pats into the flour, beginning with the smaller chunks. Be fast as you don't want the fat to melt. Snap and rub the larger chunks into the flour.
- Make a hollow in the center of the flour-fat mixture and pour in 3/4 C of the butter milk. Mix just until dry ingredients are moistened and you have a sticky dough.
- Lightly flour your clean counter, turn the dough onto the counter. If some flour remains in bowl, dribble a little more buttermilk into the bowl to pick it up.
- Pat or lightly roll your dough out to about 1/2" thickness. Fold and pat a few times, working quickly and ending with a dough circle about 3/4" thick.
- Use a biscuit cutter, dipped in flour, cut straight down, remove biscuit to pan. An offset metal spatula is helpful. Cut close to maximize first batch, the re-rolled scraps will be less tender but still tasty.
- Lightly brush biscuits with the leftover buttermilk.
- Bake 6 minutes then rotate pan. Bake another 10 or so minutes until they're golden brown. (milk and milk substitutes brown differently, you may wish to turn on the broiler a minute or so to get a nice brown top.)
- Remove from oven, brush lightly with soft butter.
These are perfect with Curried Kuri Squash Bisque, with turkey or pork meals, or just on their own. ENJOY.