We found wild fennel at the beach this weekend and decided to plan Iron (Internet) Chef.
According to the California Invasive Plant Council, fennel flourishes in coastal areas because it originated in the Mediterranean. It grows so rapidly that CIPC considers it a nuisance.
Well, one man’s nuisance is another girl’s nosh: After my third ocean-swimming attempt turned into an ocean-walking anticlimax in Malibu, I decided to bag aquatic activities altogether and forage for fennel. It grows up and down the steps leading to the beach, so I literally pass it every time I decide to go for a swim (and then change my mind).
Armed with Val’s trusty kitchen shears, I took off down the steps and came back with an armful of fennel stalks, shoots and leaves. So fragrant was the fennel that Val and Pat could smell me coming up the steps – and they were a good 30-40 feet away.
According to our friends that the Google culinary academy, the stuff that grows beside the steps (and on the side of the road and all over the mountains) is edible and will not kill you. (We didn’t want any mushroom-trips with our yard-trimmings). As opposed to store-bought fennel, wild fennel does not produce bulbs that you can throw on the grill. You can eat the small shoots of wild fennel and all of the leaves. According to the results delivered by the Google culinary academy, you can roast salmon on a bed of the thicker stalks – though you can’t eat the stalks. We didn’t want to drive to the store, so we skipped the roasted salmon and foraged in the fridge for fennel furnishings.
With what we had on-hand in the kitchen: Olive oil, kosher salt, a package of bratwurst (!), pasta shells, vodka and an armload of fennel, we feasted!
Here’s the recipe for simple fennel and sausage pasta. I think the key is cooking the pasta in the water you used to boil the fennel.
We had so much fennel left over from the cooking process that I decided to throw it in a jar with some cheap vodka and see how that turned out.
Interestingly, when you make limoncello or other infused-liqueurs, it takes days to weeks to get the flavor melded with the alcohol. Not so with wild fennel. We combined fresh fennel, with some fronds that had been boiled for 10 minutes per the pasta recipe… and after about an hour, we had a jarful of licorice deliciousness. Unfortunately, it was so redolent with fennel fantasticalness that we couldn’t drink it alone… so we looked for fennel cocktail recipes.
By that time, we’d had our fill of fennel – the house stunk of licorice – and with fennel, as with alcohol, cheese, pizza, french fries and pretty much anything that tastes awesome, there is a such thing as too much of a good thing.