04/10/2012 09:03 am ET Updated Jun 10, 2012

Fennel Pollen: Intense & Mysterious (Be a Step Ahead of the Foodies)

Children go hungry and I'm suggesting you buy an ounce of fennel pollen?


Let's be honest. It's not like many of us are going to be deciding between 1.3 ounces of fennel pollen (at $10, plus $6 shipping) and a gift to the food bank. Most of us can afford both. (But if you want to give a little extra to charity because you're indulging yourself with fennel pollen, so much the better.)

Why fennel pollen?

Because it's both intense and subtle. Because it makes tired recipes seem new. Because guests will find it... mysterious. Because it's a very cool gift for foodies who think they have everything.

You know fennel as the knobby bulb you use in a poule au pot or, in small quantities, in pasta sauces. Or as the seeds in Italian sausage. As pollen? Probably new to you. It certainly was to me. Who'd have thought to harvest the granules from the buds of a flowering fennel plant?

Pollen is a flavor enhancer. It delivers the licorice taste of fennel. And a hint of anise. But the magic of the pollen is that it not only adds new notes of flavor, it moves the basic flavor of a food front and center. It's like a little more light in a room, a slight boost of volume in music. Pleasure that you can't quite identify follows. [To order fennel pollen from Amazon, click here.]

When to use it? Rub small amounts on pork, chicken or salmon. Add a pinch to a marinara sauce, or dust it on meatballs before you brown them. If you're oven-cooking vegetables brushed with olive oil, sprinkle a bit of fennel pollen on top. Add a bit to cookie dough.

The other night, I roasted a chicken with a sprinkling of fennel pollen. I drizzled olive oil on carrots, then added salt and a modest amount of fennel pollen. It's a dinner I've made a thousand times, and I've come to find reassurance in its predictability. This time, it was just different enough to make me notice it --- like seeing your spouse after a novel haircut, expertly done.

The same, but different. Change you can handle. Learning something new.

These are all good things.

[Cross-posted from]