One of the best things about winter is surely fennel – with its mild but sweet aniseed flavour. When I was in Sicily earlier this year at the end of the European winter, it was growing wild all over the countryside, even by the side of the road. I stopped to pick a big bunch of willowy green fronds and the scent remained on my fingertips after I rubbed them together – a herby liquorice-like scent, fresh and delicious.
I love eating crunchy raw fennel bulb – sliced very thin in a salad paired with shaved parmigiano or with orange segments. It is also delightful when roasted, when the bulb becomes soft and mellow, and the aniseed flavour becomes less pronounced. Most green grocers sell the large fennel bulbs without the fronds – they have no doubt been cut off by someone along the production line and discarded, which is such a waste! The fronds make the prettiest garnish and are terrific for fennel frond pesto. I buy fennel from Angelica Organic Farm, which is located in Glenlyon Victoria but they have a stall at many Farmer’s Markets around Melbourne.
Whoever though of smashing herbs, nuts and olive oil to make a saucy paste is a complete wizard. Traditional pesto is made with basil and pine nuts, but experimenting with different herbs (like coriander or mint) and nuts (like walnuts or cashews) can be very rewarding. I use fennel fronds and roasted almonds for this pesto, adding some garlic (quite traditional) and then lemon zest to balance the flavour. I love the result – which can be used as a spread on crusty bread or served with pasta, I generally use spaghetti – with lots of parmigiano and a bit more extra virgin olive oil drizzled on.
Using seasonal local ingredients is exactly what the workshop I will be running in Sicily at Case Vecchie (the place with those stunning blue shutters) is about. I am so excited to announce that details of the September 2016 workshop are now up on the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school website. We will focus on different seasonal ingredients on each day of the 5-day workshop, visiting the source of the ingredient where possible: from cheese makers and grape-growers on the Tasca D’Almerita estate, to a visit to the fish markets in Catania. It will be the start of autumn and a lovely time to be in central Sicily. I will have more details in posts over the coming months.
Bucatini con pesto di finochietto (bucatini with fennel pesto)
2 teaspoons almonds, roasted and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 tsp seasalt
good pinch chilli flakes
1 tsp lemon zest
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 packet (500g) bucatini (or spaghetti)
grated parmigiano cheese to serve
extra EVOO to serve
To make the pesto, place all the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor. Process until finely chopped, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, then add the oilve oil and continue to process until it reaches the desired consistency.
Cook the pasta in a big pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain, reserving a bit of the cooking water to one side. Return the pasta to the empty pot and spoon over 4/5 of the pesto, stirring it in with a large spoon. If it seems a bit dry, add some of the reserved cooking water, a teaspoon full at a time and keep stirring it in until the pesto is evenly distributed and the whole lot looks glossy. Serve on individual places, spooning on a bit of the remaining pesto. Scatter with parmigiano, drizzle on extra virgin olive oil and serve.
Other recipes on this blog that use fennel:
– Roasted fennel and black barley salad
– Sicilian style pasta with sardines, pine nuts and fennel