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It was during a discussion about herbs on Twitter earlier this year that I learned about collecting and using fennel pollen to flavour food, (there’s a full round up of the herbs discussion and all the other #BritishVeg hour chats here if you’re interested).  With my garden pretty much full of self-seeded bronze fennel plants, there was absolutely no reason not to try this new delicacy.  So I’ve been waiting for the fennel flowers to open.  Turns out I wasn’t the only one waiting… fennel flowers work like magnets for insects.  The hoverflies that were missing from the garden earlier in the summer have appeared in their hundreds since the fennel started flowering.  Although they aren’t just keeping themselves to the fennel, the the globe thistles and calendula are attracting a fair few of these delicate insects too.

HoverflyThere have been very few ladybirds around this year, but the ones I have seen have been wandering about on the fennel over the last week or so.  We could do with a few more ladybirds and hoverflies really… the local aphid population is growing, and some help with getting rid of them would be very welcome.

Ladybird

Pollen beetles love the yellow flowers too – making it very hard to collect fennel flowers without getting a few beetles in the bowl.  And the wasps seem to prefer these flowers to pretty much anything else.

Wasp

After reading Christina’s post about how to dry fennel flowers for using later in the year, I’ve cut a bowlful, carefully removed every last pollen beetle, and left them in a cool place.  I’m really looking forward to trying these flowers sprinkled over roast potatoes as Christina suggests.  Being greedy though, I couldn’t wait to for the flowers to dry before I started experimenting in the kitchen.  The fresh flowers have a lovely sweet, aniseed flavour.  We’ve had some sprinkled over goat’s cheese bruschetta (highly recommended), and in a yoghurty dip to accompany filo pastry parcels filled with a creamy mixture of onions and cheese.

Dip

I used feta cheese in the parcels – I like the saltiness of the cheese combined with the slow cooked sweetness of the onions.  We also tried them filled with onion and Boursin, to cater for the picky eater who doesn’t like feta, and this combination was good too.  But it’s the feta version I’m posting a recipe for… allowing me to link this to August’s Cheese Please! where feta is the cheese of the month.

Fromage Homage

Feta & red onion filo parcels

(Makes 18 triangles)

Feta parcels

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

10g unsalted butter

2 red onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp sugar

fresh leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

150g feta

50g wild rocket, roughly chopped

6 sheets filo pastry

melted unsalted butter for brushing the pastry

poppy seeds to sprinkle over the pastries (optional)

Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan over a medium heat.  When the butter is melted, add the onion and cook gently for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, sugar and thyme leaves, stir and cook for a further 5-10 minutes, until the onion is good and soft but not brown.  Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper (not too much salt, because you’ll be adding the feta which is quite salty too).  When the onions are cool, add the feta and chopped rocket leaves and stir to mix everything together.

Preheat the oven to 190oC, 375F, gas 5.

Cut each sheet of filo pastry into three strips lengthways.  Working with one strip at a time (keep the rest of the pastry under a damp t-towel to stop it drying out and becoming crispy), brush the pastry with melted butter, put a tablespoonful of the onion and feta filling at one end of the pastry strip and fold it over on itself to make a triangle.  Keep folding the triangle over on itself until you reach the end of the pastry strip.  Repeat with each pastry strip.

Place the filo parcels on a lined baking sheet, brush with a little more melted butter and sprinkle the tops with poppy seeds.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown.  Serve warm with a bowl of mint and fennel dip…

Mint & Fennel dip

¼ cup Greek yoghurt

¼ cup soured cream

1 tsp chopped fresh mint leaves

a good pinch of fresh fennel flowers

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Stir together the yoghurt, soured cream, mint leaves and fennel flowers in a bowl.  Season to taste.

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