The Herb Garden at The Wauwinet Nantucket Insider catches up with Chef Kyle Zachary of TOPPER'S on this wintry day for some thoughts of spring... In these cold months it is hard to believe that soon all of that snow that has piled up is going to start melting away and the first herbs in our garden will start bravely sprouting from the thawing earth with the promise of a new season. In most years the first to arrive for the party are the bronze fennel plants. It's a delicious and hearty herb that is low maintenance and easy to grow but many people are not familiar with it. So how do we use it? Bronze fennel is not the bulb variety that you are used to seeing as a salad or vegetable side, it is an herb variety that can be completely utilized. We like to use the stems to infuse stocks and sauces with the plants flavor. You can also dry them and roast a whole fish or rack of lamb on them. We use the tender fronds in green leafy salads or chop them and add them to potato salad. You can steep them in hot water for a fennel tea or add them to a summer cocktail that could benefit from a sweet bite of anise. We might also steep them in an ice cream base for a dessert. The blossoms are my favorite part of the pant. When they are picked at the right time, usually mid to late summer, they are bright yellow and full of pollen. Fennel pollen sells for about $20 an ounce in gourmet shops but you can get about an ounce of pollen from one fully bloomed plant. Just bunch the blossom clusters by the stem in one hand and use your other hand to shake off the the pollen from the blossoms. The pollen is powerful and heady so you don't need much but it is great on roasted carrots, pizza, in sausage or on seafood. Pictured below is TOPPER'S Wild Atlantic Sea Bass with bronze fennel blossoms as a colorful garnish.
So if you haven't grown bronze fennel in your herb garden, you should give it a try. I think you'll be surprised how versatile it is! Kyle Zachary, Executive Chef, TOPPER'S at The Wauwinet