Fennel Pollen: The Kanye West of Ingredients
So here is the thing about Yeezy: he's overexposed, too expensive and a bit overwhelming all around. He also keeps some random kinds of company and puts his name on some pretty rubbish projects. Yet still, no one can deny that Kanye has real talent, and real insight both into the way that music should sound and the things that artists need to do to get there. Also, when he wants to he gives a hell of a performance (ligger motherducker notwithstanding, of course).
Much like Kanye, fennel pollen is an overrated, overused, way too expensive product that gets tossed around by too many people and used in some terrible ways. However, it is a beautiful product and really special, not in small part due to how difficult it is to produce. Here in Italy we are blessed with tons of wild fennel all over the area; as Mark's mother Maureen told us in our tour of her garden fennel is a wildly parasitic crop and incredibly hearty, so it not only spreads like wildfire, it survives just about anything.
Wild fennel pollen has to be harvested by hand and involves a very difficult and labourious process that most people would much rather avoid. In this area, people can often be found in the earliest parts of the summer mornings collecting baskets of fennel flowers which they'll bring home, sort through and shake out all of the pollen, and then spread it out to be dried by the sun. I'll never forget the morning that we were in the garden at about 6 am and saw a very tiny little man almost electrocute himself walking through fences with his ironically demure wicker basket, overflowing with those yellow flowers. Bless his heart, he did get electrocuted but he did not lose a single bud.
Because fennel pollen sells for a pretty penny around these parts, and while the collection of it seems like a quite bucolic and wonderful example of small town life its actually a pretty nice business. While we tend to pay less for it here in Italy, relative to the cost of other goods it remains a luxury item.
Which is why, dear friends, when using fennel pollen one should do so wisely and somewhat sparingly because as a general rule, what costs more does not always taste better and it does not taste better in larger and more potent doses. Instead, let the subtlety of the fennel pollen come through in the dish, and you'll find that it not only lasts much longer but it has a much cleaner and more discernible flavour.
Below I've set out a recipe for fennel pollen biscuits that Mark often serves in the restaurant, and because he tends to leave the cookies bite-sized the yield is about 100 biscuits to this mix. Perfect for your next party, or any time you need to impress those ligger motherduckers 'round the way....
Fennel Pollen Biscotti
- 150g Sugar
- 150g Butter
- 75g egg yolks
- 210g Flour
- 15g Baking Powder
- 5g Salt
- 10g fennel pollen
- cream butter and sugar
- continue creaming adding the yolk little at a time
- mix flour, baking powder, salt and pollen
- fold flour mix into butter/sugar/yolk mix
- roll dough into logs, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and leave in the fridge over night to infuse
- cut rounds and bake at 170C for 10 mins turning half way through