This month I was overwhelmed when I harvested my very first fennel bulb.
It may sound melodramatic but in the past I’ve lovingly sown my fennel seeds, cared for them, watered them, fed them and talked to them but have never had a bulb to show for it.
The only way I’ve redeemed myself is by letting the plant flower to later harvest the seed.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the seeds are superbly delicious, with a far fresher and subtler aniseed tone that bought ones – however the bulb has still eluded me, until now!
Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was a fluke but the bulb I harvested this month was gigantic and from seed sown last year.
I put a post on Instagram, proudly presenting my bulb to the world – and I wondered what it was that other people did with their beauties.
I generally use fennel in pasta dishes and true to this classic pairing I had suggestions for an orzo and fennel salad, crab and fennel linguine and pasta con le sarde.
Sicillian pasta con le sarde got me googling.
It’s essentially pasta with sardines and anchovies supported by the distinct flavours of fennel, saffron, pine nuts, raisins and breadcrumbs. The friend who suggested it gave me one top tip – ‘use those lovely fennel fronds copiously’.
Whilst I haven’t made pasta con le sarde yet (I’m waiting for fresh sardines at the fishmongers) it did get me thinking. Why is it that supermarkets don’t sell fennel with fronds? The bulb I’d harvested had fronds as big as the vegetable itself.
I decided they needed to be used – and fennel frond pesto emerged. Imagine the aniseed whispers of fennel nestled with the slight bitterness of walnuts (we have thousands of the nuts from last year’s harvest), the fruitiness of olive oil and the mild heat of garlic – all brought together by the acidity of lemon and the seasoning of salt and pepper.
Stirred through a pasta like gigli – one with a rough surface area for the sauce to stick to – and finished with lashings of parmesan, it’s a mid-summer-lunch-with-a-glass-of-wine kind of affair.
So here it is, my recipe for fennel frond pesto, never again shall this delicate herb go to waste.
My top tip – make the pesto and let it sit in the fridge for a day or so to let the flavours mingle, it’s truly tastier for the rest…
Fennel frond pesto
This makes enough for around six servings of pesto pasta
- 75 g fennel fronds washed and roughly chopped (discard the thick stalks)
- 2 cloves garlic roughly chopped
- 60 g walnuts
- 1 lemon juice of
- salt to taste
- pepper freshly ground
- 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Place all the ingredients except for the olive oil in a food processor, adding salt to taste and a good grinding of freshly ground pepper.
Blitz the ingreients until the fennel fronds are finely chopped and the mixture is smooth (ish!). You may have to keep stopping the maching to push down the mixture on the sides to ensure an even texture.
With the machine running add the extra virgin olive oil one tablespoon at a time. You may not need to use it all, add enough so that the pesto is glossy and bound well with oil.
Pop the pesto in the fridge for a day or so to allow the flavours to mingle.
Serve stirred through freshly cooked pasta, drizzle over salads or use when baking a breaded plait.