Dear Mr. Gold:
A few weeks ago, you mentioned that the Penzey’s store in Torrance didn’t sell something called fennel pollen. What the devil is fennel pollen, and why should I want any of it? My allergies are bad enough this time of year as it is.
Russ, Redondo Beach
Fennel pollen, which is the powdery, intensely yellow stuff that may be gathering even now on wild-fennel weeds in your back yard, is the strongest, purest source of licorice smell known to mankind, a substance that makes toasted fennel seeds, or even the imported wild-fennel flowers that cost more than $150 a pound, seem as mild as supermarket anise. Pound up some of the miracle powder with rosemary, thyme and sea salt, and your next pork roast will smell like a Tuscan hillside. Sprinkle a little on a cream-sauced pasta — boom, a jolt of flavor. Mix a teaspoonful with honey and use it to glaze a roasted bird. It may not be nirvana in a tin, but you can see it from there.
Fennel pollen was popularized by Dario Cecchini, a celebrity butcher in the heart of the Chianti region, and its use in the United States was jump-started by Mario Batali, who owns Babbo and Del Posto in New York City. You can score your own at the delightfully named Web site www.fennelpollen.com, or pick up a tin at La Brea Bakery.