This was our first time cooking with wild fennel, and – YUM! – it was good. The delicate flavour of the wild fennel is combined with the hearty flavour of the vegan chorizo in this simple dish: Wild Fennel and Vegan Chorizo Pasta.
We first came across wild fennel on the island of Sardinia two years ago. The plant seems to like Mediterranean climate, but you can also get it in the UK. You find it lining the side of the road or growing in a wild or semi-wild meadow. We don’t plan to go to places where wild fennel grows. We more or less stumble upon it (and get very excited) and make room for it in our meal schedule. Once we see it, we just sort of keep an eye out for it.
Wild fennel is worth a change of plans if you find it. It has a much more delicate and sweet flavour than regular fennel you can buy. The anis aroma is less in-your-face, even in raw state. Wild fennel makes an awesome and fresh ingredient to use in pasta, risotto or salad. Next time we find wild fennel, we will try it in our fennel risotto.
I think that wild fennel is widely overlooked and underrated, often considered as a weed. On our travels we have seen people picking wild asparagus, watercress and other green salad leaves in large quantities. But so far, we are the only people we have seen to pick wild fennel. We don’t understand why. Have you ever picked wild fennel or know anyone who does?
So how do you forage wild fennel?
Spring is the perfect time to pick the fronds and tender stems of wild fennel. The easiest way to first spot wild fennel by its heads of feathery fronds. Sometimes you can still find dried-out plants of the previous year in the same place where young wild fennel grows. (See the picture below)
The stem of wild fennel is much thinner than regular fennel, about 1 cm thick. Wild fennel doesn’t have a buld like the cultivated kin. Often you find several plants growing in a bunch. The final way we make sure that what we found is wild fennel is the typical, lovely anis-seedy smell when you rub a bit of the plant between your fingers.
When you pick it, be careful not to disturb the roots, so the plant can grow again. Use a knife to cut the stem near its base. What the individual plant lacks in size, you can make up for by harvesting a good bunch of wild fennel. Where you found one plant, more should be easy enough to spot around it.
As always when foraging, don’t over-harvest. Leave enough for the plant to keep spreading. Also be 100% sure that what you have picked is safe to eat and be aware of any potential lookalikes which are poisonous. Hemlock, which is related to wild fennel, is highly poisonous, so be careful and learn how you can easily distinguish them.
We recommend not over-cooking wild fennel to preserve its great taste. A quick fry or blanch is likely to be all the wild fennel needs to bring out the best in it. And the fine feathery tops are great just chopped up and sprinkled raw on top of a bowl of food. Absolutely yum!
When it comes to the vegan chorizo, we are still working our recipe to make our own, as mentioned in our post on Spanish Lentil and Vegan Chorizo Stew. You could also substitute other plant based sausages or tofu, fried with plenty of paprika (We LOVE smokey paprika).
Normally when I cook, I use a whole array of condiments and spices. But this Wild Fennel and Vegan Chorizo Pasta celebrates the beauty of a simple dish. Boil some pasta, fry the vegan chorizo in olive oil, adding the chopped wild fennel towards the end. Combine with the pasta, season with salt and pepper. Add more olive oil to taste. Done. This meal doesn’t need more. The vegan chorizo and the wild fennel bring enough flavour to round this dish off. Just writing about it, I can already hear my belly start rumble. Can you hear yours yet?
Wild Fennel Pasta with Vegan Chorizo
- 2 cups penne
- 1 handful wild fennel
- 15 cm vegan chorizo
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Wash the fennel
- Boil a pan of water
- Cook pasta and wild fennel fronds until pasta is al dente (approx 8 mins)
- Remove fennel and cut into small pieces
- Fry vegan chorizo slices in olive oil
- When starting brown add the chopped fennel and continue to fry for another couple of minutes
- Drain pasta, mix all together
- Serve with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of chopped raw wild fennel leaves
Few things are more rewarding to us than preparing a meal from ingredients we have gathered ourselves. It is just such a satisfying feeling! Get out there! Look around you and find out about all the things nature has to offer. It’s tasty, it’s free! What are you waiting for? Start foraging now :)
Paul & Sophie