Ever since I read Heat, the well-written and hilarious book by Bill Buford about his trial by fire working at Babbo, one of Mario Batali’s restaurants, I’ve been wanting to use fennel pollen. Buford, a former New Yorker fiction editor, refers to it as a secret ingredient that elevates food to another dimension and that he sometimes smuggles into the U.S. from Italy.
On my last couple of trips to Italy, I searched for fennel pollen. Shopkeepers looked at me with such quizzical stares that you might believe I’d asked for fairy dust instead of fennel pollen.
Back at home, I found it online but never got around to ordering it. At $8.00 for one ounce, it wasn’t exactly something you could lavishly sprinkle on your food. But I also learned that pulverizing fennel seeds produces much the same flavor. So I experimented, grinding some fennel seeds along with coriander, black peppercorns, sea salt and a dash of cayenne. I used an electric coffee grinder, pulverizing the mixture to a powder.
I rubbed the mixture on both sides of some boneless pork chops I had defrosted. Bone-in pork chops would be great too.
I smeared a little olive oil on my grill pan and cooked the pork chops for a few minutes on each side. At that point my husband walked in the door and announced “It smells like cookies in here.” In fact, it did smell just the same as when I make pizzelle – those anise-flavored Italian flat waffle-type cookies. For that reason alone, you’ve got to try this out. Your house will smell divine. And the pork chops? Served with some roasted carrots, parsnips and onions - also divine.
Still, I need to order some REAL fennel pollen to see how the faux fennel pollen stacks up. Do you think Santa might bring me some? Santa – are you reading my blog? I promise to leave you some pizzelle in exchange for the fennel pollen.
Faux Fennel Pollen Mixture
(makes enough for dusting both sides of four pork chops)
3 T. fennel seeds
1 t. coriander seeds
1 t. peppercorns
1 t. sea salt
dash of cayenne pepper
Place everything in a coffee grinder and pulverize.
Roasted Carrots, Parsnips and Onions
Lightly grease a cookie sheet with olive oil. Peel and cut up carrots, parsnips and onion into large pieces. Toss everything with the olive oil on the cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper and fresh thyme. Roast in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Take them out of the oven and turn them over on the cookie sheet, then roast for another 20 minutes or until browned and cooked through.