No, my friends, that’s not gold dust. Although it may as well be. It took me so long to distill this powder that it’s as precious as gold to me.
It’s fennel pollen: the pollen produced by flowering, wild fennel plants.
The last time I had it, I was sitting in a simple lakeside Trattoria in the beautiful town of Trevignano Romano on Lake Bracciano about an hour from Rome.
We ordered grilled fish and salad and that’s exactly what we got. A simple fillet of grilled fish and a salad consisting of crispy lettuce leaves dressed with a classically sharp Italian dressing of olive oil and wine vinager.
Here’s my handsome husband (right) with a friend of ours waiting for our lunch that very day.
You can see the lake in the background although it’s a little washed out. The fish came from the lake and was a revelation. It was simply grilled and seasoned with salt, pepper and what I discovered, after questioning our waiter closely, was fennel pollen. It was, quite simply, divine. One of the very best meals I’ve ever eaten. The kind of thing you might request as your last.
I have searched high and low for fennel pollen. I did exhaustive internet research. I rang Herbie’s spices. I even coerced my brother-in-law who, until recently, worked at Circa, the Prince to ask the head chef there who I know is passionate about seasonal, home-grown produce. He collects his own.
So I did what any desperate person would do. I enlisted the help of a Greek.
My darling Greek grandfather-in-law took to his flowering fennel plants with some form of sharp implement and hacked off some heads for me. Fennel heads, that is.
Anyway, I let them dry for ages in a paper bag and then one day some months later, when they were totally desiccated, I began the sifting process.
It was a long (at least 45 minutes) and fiddly process that involved not one but two sieves, one of which was one of those very fine metal mesh sieves you push raspberries through to remove the seeds.
Finally I ended up with what you see in the first photo.
And just in case you thought I was getting too over-the-top foodie on you with my precious fennel pollen, then here’s something that might make you giggle.
These cards are from Greenwich Letterpress and are two of a funny series that is designed to illuminate those of your dinner guests who aren’t food snobs and don’t spend their lives poring over Gourmet Traveller i.e. actually have a life.
Just in case you can’t make out the fennel pollen card it says:
“Fennel pollen. Exotic, pricey greenish-yellow dust collected from wild fennel plants and used as a seasoning in ambitious restaruants, where its herbacious funk is deployed to cut through the richness of such main course as scallops and sweetbreads.”
Now, I hardly think ‘La Tavernetta’ on the shores of Lake Bracciano qualifies as an “ambitious restaurant” in the same way that I don’t think my love of fennel pollen really qualifies me as a food snob. After all, I did eat nearly 400 grams of cooking chocolate this afternoon in a late afternoon sugar binge. But let’s just keep that between you and me shall we?
Now the search is on to find a recipe that will do my precious dust justice.