I got really into using fennel pollen a few years ago when I got addicted to Mario Batali's Goat Cheese Tortelloni with Dried Orange and Fennel Pollen. The first time I made it I didn't have fennel pollen sitting around in my pantry, so I used Batali's suggested alternative: ground up fennel seeds. The pollen, I quickly found, makes a difference. And so I started using it on everything. A pinch of this stuff, makes magic happen. The food writer Peggy Knickerbocker said "If angels sprinkled a spice from their wings, this would be it." (Saveur, May/June 2000)
Here are a few tips on how to use fennel pollen in your cooking...
Fennel pollen is usually hand collected from wild fennel, which grows like mad in Italy and California (where it was planted by Italian immigrants), the two primary sources of fennel pollen. It doesn't taste like fennel seed or anise, so it truly adds a different flavor to food. It not only enhances savory dishes like meat and roasted vegetables, it is a wonderful secret ingredient to add to baking: think muffins, stone fruit pies, and breads.
My go-to recipe for roasted chicken follows Judy Rodgers's Zuni Café method, sprinkling a few teaspoons of fennel pollen across the bird as it goes into the oven.
It doesn't take much to show up in a dish: think in terms of a pinch per person. It can go on meats and in baked dishes before they cook, and it can also be dusted across a finished dish (like Batali's Tortelloni) to add a new beyond-salt-and-pepper dimension of seasoning.
I met the nice folks who run Pollen Ranch when I spoke at the Fancy Food Show last January. Based in Lemon Cove, California (don't you love that name?), they are one of only a few domestic companies harvesting and selling fennel pollen that I know of. In addition to their pure fennel pollen, they also offer a variety of mixes intended for specific foods, like Hog Heaven for Pork, and Are You Game for beef, lamb, and game.
• Buy Fennel Pollen (1/2 ounce tin, from Pollen Ranch, $9.95)
• See The Babbo Cookbook by Mario Batali for the recipe for Goat Cheese Tortelloni with Dried Orange and Fennel Pollen
(Fennel image: Flickr member Wolfpix licensed under Creative Commons)