Holly A. Heyser
Fennel is a friend of mine. I've grown it every year I've been a gardener, and, much to my amazement when I first moved west, the plant grows wild all over California. It's a weed. A delicious, anise-flavored weed.
Fennel bulbs can be grown all year long here, and if you let the plant get established, it will become a perennial in your garden; my fennel patch is four years old. Every summer it flowers and sets seed, and afterwards I cut it to the ground. Then, sure enough, a few weeks later, the plant begins to grow anew. By Christmas I have bulbs again.
High summer is a busy time if you are into fennel because the plant is setting seeds and is in full flower. Lots of people collect the dried seeds in late summer, but I prefer the fresh, green seeds, which are juicy and taste like anise candy. They are a powerful highlight in any dish, and unlike the dried seeds, they won't get stuck in your teeth.
As for the flowers, flowers mean pollen. Fennel pollen. It's a trendy ingredient now, and you can see it all over the place in high-end restaurants, especially Italian ones; fennel pollen is used a lot in Tuscany. The pollen is often frightfully expensive, although my friend Scott over at Sausage Debauchery tells me he got a good deal from an Italian producer and is selling wild Italian fennel pollen at a lower price than I've ever seen online before.
Holly A. Heyser
But, if you live in on the West Coast, you can gather fennel pollen yourself. There are two ways to do it, and each has advantages. The easiest way is to gather lots of fennel flower clusters and put them in a paper bag, tying the bag closed and the stalks together. You then hang this somewhere and as the flowers dry, the pollen drops into the bag.