Pesto di finocchio (fennel frond pesto) – join me for a workshop in Sicily September 2016

One of the best things about winter is surely fennel – with its mild but sweet aniseed flavour. When I was in Sicily earlier this year at the end of the European winter, it was growing wild all over the countryside, even by the side of the road. I stopped to pick a big bunch of willowy green fronds and the scent remained on my fingertips after I rubbed them together – a herby liquorice-like scent, fresh and delicious.

  

I love eating crunchy raw fennel bulb – sliced very thin in a salad paired with shaved parmigiano or with orange segments. It is also delightful when roasted, when the bulb becomes soft and mellow, and the aniseed flavour becomes less pronounced. Most green grocers sell the large fennel bulbs without the fronds – they have no doubt been cut off by someone along the production line and discarded, which is such a waste! The fronds make the prettiest garnish and are terrific for fennel frond pesto. I buy fennel from Angelica Organic Farm, which is located in Glenlyon Victoria but they have a stall at many Farmer’s Markets around Melbourne.

  

Whoever though of smashing herbs, nuts and olive oil to make a saucy paste is a complete wizard. Traditional pesto is made with basil and pine nuts, but experimenting with different herbs (like coriander or mint) and nuts (like walnuts or cashews) can be very rewarding.  I use fennel fronds and roasted almonds for this pesto, adding some garlic (quite traditional) and then lemon zest to balance the flavour. I love the result – which can be used as a spread on crusty bread or served with pasta, I generally use spaghetti – with lots of parmigiano and a bit more extra virgin olive oil drizzled on.

 
Using seasonal local ingredients is exactly what the workshop I will be running in Sicily at Case Vecchie (the place with those stunning blue shutters) is about. I am so excited to announce that details of the September 2016 workshop are now up on the  Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school website. We will focus on different seasonal ingredients on each day of the 5-day workshop, visiting the source of the ingredient where possible: from cheese makers and grape-growers on the Tasca D’Almerita estate, to a visit to the fish markets in Catania.  It will be the start of autumn and a lovely time to be in central Sicily. I will have more details in posts over the coming months.

  

Bucatini con pesto di finochietto (bucatini with fennel pesto)


1 cup fennel fronds
2 teaspoons almonds, roasted and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 tsp seasalt
good pinch chilli flakes
1 tsp lemon zest
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 packet (500g) bucatini (or spaghetti)
grated parmigiano cheese to serve
extra EVOO to serve

To make the pesto, place all the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor. Process until finely chopped, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, then add the oilve oil and continue to process until it reaches the desired consistency.

Cook the pasta in a big pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain, reserving a bit of the cooking water to one side. Return the pasta to the empty pot and spoon over 4/5 of the pesto, stirring it in with a large spoon. If it seems a bit dry, add some of the reserved cooking water, a teaspoon full at a time and keep stirring it in until the pesto is evenly distributed and the whole lot looks glossy. Serve on individual places, spooning on a bit of the remaining pesto. Scatter with parmigiano, drizzle on extra virgin olive oil and serve.

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Other recipes on this blog that use fennel:
Roasted fennel and black barley salad
Sicilian style pasta with sardines, pine nuts and fennel

18 comments on “Pesto di finocchio (fennel frond pesto) – join me for a workshop in Sicily September 2016

  1. Mmmm great idea! I also have wild fennel growing along the irrigation channels which is a bit different to cultivated fennel. The new young fronds would be nice. I have also made pesto with ruccola or rocket when in season. Saw this in my travels in Cinqueterra a few years back. That is nice too.

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  2. A little nerdy historical aside for those not keen on the basil and pine nuts in ‘traditional Genoese pesto’ – in the past, pesto was made with whatever herbs (parsley, marjoram etc ) happened to be available, not necessarily basil. That’s actually a recent development. Pine nuts too appear to be a relatively recent addition. Read John Dickie’s Delizia: The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food for more details…

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  3. Paola, your fennel pesto is a thing of beauty!! My husband’s godparents house is absolutely covered in wild fennel – both in the garden and the empty block next door. I know what I’ll be making after I come home with a haul of fennel from our next visit. Congratulations on your 2016 course in Sicily!! The program sounds incredible xx

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    • lucky you having so much wild fennel available – it is not that common here in Australia ( or at least I have not been able to find it). Yes I am very excited about Sicily thank you, I love the program we have developed! X

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  4. I love fennel pesto. I am growing a frondy fennel (non-bulb type) in my herb garden simply so I can make it during the summer months – albeit, a mild UK version. The herb can’t really compare to the intense flavour of wild Sicilian fennel.

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  5. I’m with you about the fennel pesto. A few years ago I was shopping at one of my favorites fsrmers market vendors (an Italian couple) and the wife said “I hang our with Sicilian women and they told me to make pesto with the fennel fronds”, so I took her advice!

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  6. Sicily sounds fabulous! I am a big fan of basil pesto. and grow my own basil to make it! This looks great as well! I recently had a walnuts and rocket pesto with blue cheese on gnocchi. Delicious.

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