Why Shop For Fennel Pollen When You Can Hike For It?
Los Angeles doesn't have the high pastures of Parma, ideal for cows that produce the milk that becomes Parmigiano-Reggiano, nor do our Oak trees hide white truffles around their roots likes those in the surrounding region of Alba. But we do have another prized and pricey Italian delicacy close at hand, growing like weeds in the ditches, abandoned lots, hills and mountains throughout the Southland. Wild fennel pollen isn't cheap, but bring along a bag and a pair of scissor on an afternoon hike in the next few weeks, and you can collect a little stash of your own.
Flowering wild fennel looks nothing like the bright green fronds and stalks found at your local grocery store. The stalks shoot up and out in the every direction, some reaching six feet high, the tell-tale fronds all but dominated by clusters of tiny yellow flowers. They can be found almost anywhere, from the shoulders of a Santa Monica on-ramp to ocean-view hiking trails in Palos Verdes. Stick more to the pastoral--you don't want to season your dinner with fennel-scented break dust--and cut off the flower clusters that are still open and haven't gone to seed (although you can cook with those too). The yield is very low--around fifty flower clusters resulted in a tablespoon or two of pollen--so keep that in mind.
To process the pollen, dry the flowers out on a baking sheet in an oven set at its lowest temperature for fifteen or twenty minutes. Once the flowers crumble when pinched and rubbed, they can be ground and passed through a fine sieve until just the golden dust remains.
For a surprising treat, add a pinch to the grounds of a French press before brewing a cup of coffee. Just don't get too used to having it around--the flowers will all be gone before long and you'd be hard pressed to collect enough to last until next summer.