Every year, leafy plants as tall as NBA players sprout up throughout Sonoma County wine country, spreading yellow flower “dust” from their crowns along fence lines and dirt roads.
This is wild fennel, and despite its invasiveness and weed-like appearance, this native to the shores of the Mediterranean is fun to use in cooking—and it’s free. Fennel, also known as anise or sweet fennel, has a strong anise scent and mild licorice flavor.
Here are three ways I love cooking with wild fennel during summer months:
- Flower Garnish – Use fennel’s distinct umbrella of yellow flowers as a garnish with steak or pork dishes. Pick fresh flowers, rinse gently and place on a baking sheet to dry overnight. Encourage guests to smell the flowers for another element of the sensory experience during dinner.
- Pollen Vinaigrette – Bring subtle anise spice to a vinaigrette by adding a teaspoon of wild fennel pollen to a cup of vinaigrette. Pollen is slightly grainy, so it can also be toasted before adding to the vinaigrette to release its essential oils and aromatics.
- Grilled Bulbs – Slice fennel cross-cut lengthwise and sous-vide cook it in a fennel pollen vinaigrette. Great garnish with grilled beef, pork or even in a crab risotto.
The flower garnishes were a hit at our first-ever Sunset Supper at Vista Point last month.
When shopping for fennel, the shape is very important. There are two—one that’s narrow (the female) and one rounder (male). Look for the broader, round one. The male plant typically has more flavor.
Learn more about wild fennel here.