I have changed a lot over the past few years in how I grocery shop. In Canada, it was simple: I would make my grocery list, go the the store, get what I needed. If it was something a little more exotic and was not at the grocery store in town (our last house was actually out of Toronto in the suburbs which eventually I am sure will all be attached, the way Toronto is growing, but that’s another topic on it’s own) I could easily find it in any neighbourhood in Toronto, and either my mother or one of my friends could direct me better than google.
But here, it’s not so simple. I brought down recipes that I had been cooking for years, would show up at the local Walmart (yes we have Walmart here albeit it’s not quite like your Walmart) or local vegetable markets and look for ginger? nope. leeks? nope. basil? nope. pizza dough? nope. (coming from a suburb of Italians, this was especially painful). and the list goes on.
Fennel was one of those things. While it was not something that I used daily or even weekly, when I wanted it, it was one of those items that you couldn’t really substitute, there’s no flavour that matches it. If you disagree, tell me what else I might be able to find here that could substitute.
I bought the fennel for the Spring Rolls recipe (that I have yet to put on the blog); it’s mostly the fennel and the hoisin that makes the pork and vegetables pop. I have used fennel seeds in the past, but let’s face it, fresh is always better.
There is a market in our town that’s downtown that has great produce and a great variety of Asian products. Interestingly, they do not put all the produce out, it’s special ordered for the restaurants. You have to ask for things like basil and fennel. I never even bothered asking for fennel until the other day. I learned the Spanish word for it, and voila! they brought one out for me! Yes, it may have been the smallest bulb I’ve ever seen ….. but it was fennel and I was happy. My spring rolls were complete.
But then I was left with these MASSIVE fronds. I could not just throw them out. I have a good friend who has lived in Belize for about 20 years. She is the master at using everything on her counter. So every time I look at some ends of something I’m about to toss out, I see her face and think, “what can I use these for?”. You see, in Belize, most groceries are much more expensive than mine and yours, and her and her husband have become masters at not wasting anything.
So I looked at these massive fronds and thought: pesto, which, to be honest, is usually my go to for anything that’s leftover produce. I’ve made pesto with different nuts before, but I thought since the fronds were stronger than basil or parsley, the sweetness of the pine nuts would offset the stronger taste of the vegetable. I think I was right, let me know if you do too.
Use it in pasta, smear it on your pizza, or on a lovely baguette. Fresh Parmesan never hurts either.
Fennel Frond Pesto
2 fennel bulbs
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
4 Tab fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Pick off fennel fronds, you should have about 2 cups loose, not packed down. Discard the stalks and save the fennel bulb for another use. Place the fronds in a food processor. Add the garlic, pine nuts, lemon zest, salt, and pepper and process until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the processor bowl. With the machine running, add the olive oil and Parmesan through the feed tube and continue to process until the mixture is well combined.
Makes about 1 cup. Keep refrigerated.