Every spring, hundreds of young fennel plants push their way up in the borders, paths and any other part of the garden where they can get their roots down. And every spring, I promise that this will be the year when the fennel plants are cut back before they flower and set seed, so that next spring there will be fewer fennel plants to pull up.
Then, come late summer, the yellow fennel flowers are covered with hoverflies and I don’t want to cut them down and take away such a popular source of nectar. So I decide to leave the flowers just a few more weeks and allow the insects to feed, but they will definitely be cut back before any seeds form.
Now it’s autumn and, despite all my good intentions, I’ve left a few flowers to set seed. Who knows, there may be a devastating winter on the way that will wipe out all the fennel plants in the garden and I’d be left without the delicate, feathery foliage and insect-magnet flowers – so probably best to allow some seed to form and collect them, just in case. And of course, a jar of fennel seed in the cupboard is great for adding flavour to breads and biscuits, and to use in the recipe I’ve just found for cous cous with raisins, pine nuts, cumin and fennel seed (from Wild garlic, gooseberries and me) – very tasty.
The trouble with fennel seeds is there’s very little time between them being ripe and ready to collect, and them having been scattered to the four corners of the garden (and probably the neighbour’s garden too) where they will germinate in the spring and add to the already huge variety of weeds that flourish here. But then, a few extra weeds are OK if in return there’s a jar full of tasty seeds in the kitchen cupboard.
I used the first of this year’s fennel seed harvest to flavour some biscotti. I love these little biscuits with a cup of coffee, and they’re pretty good dunked in a glass of desert wine too. The biscotti are my offering for this month’s Herbs on Saturday hosted by Karen over at Lavender and Lovage.
Fennel & Raisin Biscotti
220g plain flour
150g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tbsp finely grated orange zest
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 large free range eggs
Preheat the oven to 190oC, 375oF, gas 5. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.
Mix all the ingredients except the eggs together in a large bowl. Beat the eggs lightly, then add them to the dry ingredients. Use a wooden spoon or your hands to bring everything together into a soft dough (probably best to use a spoon to start off with, then use your hands).
Divide the dough into two pieces and shape each one into a long roll with a slightly flattened top. These rolls will be sliced across to form the individual biscotti once they’ve been baked, so get them to a size that will give you decent sized biscuits. Put each roll onto the prepared baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes. The rolls should be cooked through and starting to turn a lovely golden brown on top.
Take the baking sheet out of the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Turn the oven down to 120oC. When the rolls are cool enough to handle, slice them across at a slight angle to get . Lay each slice on a lined baking sheet, and return to the oven for about 50 minutes – until the biscotti are dry and hard.