A fun thing to know about fennel seed:
Did you ever wonder about the large bowls of mixed seeds and what looks like candy at the entrance to most Indian restaurants? It's called mukhwas, which means "mouth smell". After a meal, on the way out the door, you spoon a bit into your hand and chew. Typically, mukhwas contains a variety of seeds, including betel leaves, rose petals, cardamom, clove, pumpkin seeds, roasted coriander seeds (dhana dal), dried mint, and -- my favorite ingredient of all -- roasted or candy-coated fennel seed. Mukhwas cleanses the breath, but also aids in digestion, cools you after you eat spicy food, and helps control what Julia Child used to call the rooty-toot-toot.
Cooking or baking?
Cooking, primarily, but crusty, country breads and Indian naan baked with fennel seed are fragrant and delicious. Fennel seed is a frequent ingredient in many types of sausage and pairs well with tomatoes.
Keep fennel seed on the spice rack, in a jar or tin with a tight-fitting lid, for 6-12 months.
Linguine with sausage, peppers, leeks and tomato
From the pantry, you'll need: linguine (or spaghetti), olive oil, fennel seed, dry white wine, black olives, thyme.
A trip to the small market in our village inspired this dish. Well, okay, that's not entirely true. My husband Ted found five boxes of Dreamfields low-carb linguine in the storage bin in our pantry. No other shapes, just linguine. Which, obviously, I don't use often enough. The fennel seed brings out the flavor of the fennel in the Italian-style chicken sausage I found in the market. Delicious on the day I made it, this dish improved with age, and on the third day it was so good I ate the leftovers cold, right from the fridge.
1/2 lb linguine (I like Dreamfields)
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 links sweet Italian chicken sausage, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
2 ribs celery, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 tsp fennel seed
1 large tomato, cored and seeded, diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
12 black olives (from a can), roughly chopped
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Lots of fresh black pepper
1/4-1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Set a large stockpot of water on the stove on high heat. When the water boils, cook the linguine according to package directions, stopping a minute before the pasta is fully cooked. Drain, and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, prepare and wash the leeks: cut off the root end, and cut right where the white leek meets the dark green leaves. (Save the leaves for soup stock.) Slice through the leeks lengthwise, then sliced across into 1/4-inch pieces. Place the leek pieces in a large mixing bowl and fill with cool water. Agitate with your hand to dislodge any dirt clinging to the leeks. Then, let the bowl sit, undisturbed, while the pasta cooks. (The dirt will sink to the bottom.)
In a large nonstick sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the sausage, and cook until lightly browned on both sides, 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or small strainer, skim the leeks off the surface of the bowl, trying not to disturb the sediment that has settled to the bottom, and add the leeks to the sausage along with the red pepper and celery. Sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in the fennel seed, tomato, wine and olives. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to break down and the sauce is bubbling. Add the thyme, and cook for 1 minute, then add the linguine, and stir well to coat the pasta with the sauce. Season to taste with black pepper.
Pour the pasta into a serving bowl, top with the parmesan cheese, and toss.
Other recipes that use fennel seed:
Cranberry-orange sorbet with fennel seeds, from Lottie + Doof
Onion tart with mustard and fennel, from Smitten Kitchen
Fennel seed bread, from Nami-Nami
Matina's roast pork with fennel seeds and lemon, from Ambrosia and Nectar
Fennel and pepper taralli, from Wild Yeast
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