A grilled peach salsa with jalapeno and a hint of. . . what is that?
So my nephew (with whom I’m in a gentle competition in all things culinary) calls me last Sunday afternoon. He and his family were on their way back to Chicago from my home in Northville, a southwest burb of Detroit. Not two hours had passed from the time they left my house, when my nephew, being an outgoing, chatty-type of fellow gets on his cell to fill me in on the latest news from the road.
“You’ll never guess where we just stopped,” he begins.
“Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor?” I venture.
Zingerman’s, The Deli to end-all-discussion of deli, is a U-M institution, a gourmet food emporium that just so happens to sell fabulous sandwiches . . . like these.
(Muenster, jalapeno spread, tomato and avocado, my fav.)
Considering that I had just sent my family off with a lavish brunch - a meal that included some of Zingerman cheeses, a chocolate-studded sour dough bread and graham crackers the likes of gingersnap cookies - it seemed unlikely that they were all that hungry for corned beef on rye.
But clearly they had embarked on a mission to take home more Zinger-delectibles. Like these. . .
Walk into Zingerman’s, and it’s hard to resist: the selection of Bakehouse breads, the cheeses fresh from The "Z" Creamery, the imported olive oils and chocolates, the coffees and homemade gelati. Ask a Zingerman server (foodies stationed at every turn) and you shall receive all manners of samples, with detailed commentary of on the origin, nature and stature of ingredients.
“We stopped at Zingerman's," my nephew tells me, "because we were out of fennel pollen.”
(That's fennel pollen. Not the seed. Not the powder. The pollen.)
“What a coincidence,” I respond. “I just picked up a bottle of fennel pollen myself last time I was in Zingerman’s. . . then put it back on the shelf when I checked the price. ($24.95)
Not to be out be outdone, my nephew announces in triumph that he’s just purchased five bottles of fennel pollen. One to replenish his supply. The other four for hostess gifts. In fact, he’s left one in Will-Call for me.
So! There I have it. Forty-five precious grams of wild Tuscan fennel pollen, “fairy dust for food lovers.” That subtle, yet sweet hint of licorice. A rarity indeed.
Picture, if you will, fennel growing wild, blooming in profusion under the Tuscan sun. Now imagine gathering those flowers and harvesting their teensy tiny specs of pollen by hand, packing them into designer tins or spice tubes, billing them as a “touch of Italy” to fetch a pretty price in food specialty shops. Places like Zingerman's.
Fennel pollen. You say you never heard of it. I first discovered it on the web a couple months ago when I received an email from Cleveland chef, author and blogger Michael Ruhlman, extolling the virtues of cooking with fennel and dill pollens on a social network shopping site called OpenSky.
“I consider very few ingredients secret,” Ruhlman writes, "but these have been game changers for years and are hard for most of us to find.”
Reading the description of fennel pollen - that sweet hint of licorice, more intense than anise -- I’m duly intrigued by the prospect of adding its “magical pop” of flavor to my food. But at $50 for two 1-oz tins? Seemed a bit steep. I toss the email.
But as the cosmos seemed to have it, the fennel pollen came to me. And so I’ll impart it secrets to you:
A dozen - or so - ways to use fennel pollen
Roll it into pasta
Mix it into risotto
Mix it with crushed rosemary, (or any fresh herbs) sea salt, black pepper and sprinkle on potatoes
Use as a seasoning rub on chicken, fish or vegetables
Mix it with olive oil to serve with a good crusty bread
Slice peaches. In a large bowl, coat peach slices with olive oil. Lightly grill peaches and char jalapeno pepper. Cut peaches into cube-size chunks for salsa. Remove seeds and vein from pepper. Finely chop the onion, jalapeno, garlic and cilantro. Add lime juice, vinegar and salt; toss well. And enjoy.
Got a secret ingredient? Tell us about it.
Savoring summer's end. Good to the last drop. . . of pollen.