Sweet and Spicy Roasting Fennel
Sweet and spicy roasted fennel is a perennial flower that forms in the garden just before the end of summer. It blooms late in the year, about the first week of October. The large red flowers are quite fragrant and are often sold in garden centers as a large, showy orange flower. The small blue flowers, called petals, which are white or cream colored, are usually eaten by birds like cardinals, towhees, sparrows and quail. Both the flowers and the fennel root are used for flavoring soul food dishes. In Mexican and Italian cuisines, the roots are used as flavoring for many different dishes.
Although it has a strong flavor, fennel loses its flavor when exposed to smoke, heat, and oxidation. When the fennel is freshly picked, it has a mild, sweet flavor. After being kept in a cool place, the fennel changes its color to a dark purple-black. When the root of the fennel is dried, it produces a strong but delicate flavor that is used to flavor foods such as: breads, beans, pasta sauces, crackers, sausages, beans (particularly kidney beans), corn on the cob, vegetable dishes, soups, stews, salads, vegetable juices, and even ice cream.
In southern cooking, fennel adds a hint of sweetness and spice to bland dishes, and the flower itself is flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, or a combination of these spices. Fennel is very versatile. You can use it fresh or dried, or you can steam it, slice it, chop it, make powder out of the fennel, and use that instead. Fennel is also available in capsule form.
When fennel is added to soups and stews, or when it is added to small portions of food like cornbread or rice, it will enhance the flavor and heighten the appetite. In other words, the more fennel you put in, the more your food will taste. Also, be careful with fennel. It is an extremely strong spice and can irritate some people.
When fennel is roasted, the leaves lose some of their flavor and aroma. For this reason, the older the leaves are, the more intense the flavor and aroma will become. If you want a truly magnificent roast, let the fennel dry for about 2 hours before you start cooking. This will allow the fennel fibers to expand and contract when the heat is applied, giving the best result. When using fennel in the early stages of a roast, it is important not to overcook.
If the fennel has been aging for a few months and you are looking for a sweeter flavor in your beans, consider leaving the fennel whole until the very end of the roast. The longer you leave the fennel whole, the more of its natural sweetness will remain. It will continue to give your coffee a depth of flavor that you would not otherwise get, and you will also enjoy the rich aromatic smoke that results from roasting the fennel. Although there are people who believe that the smoke is bad for your health, many people enjoy the taste. Keep in mind that as long as the leaves are allowed to dry completely, the entire plant should be allowed to dry before picking off the wood.
When roasting fennel, you should be careful that you do not burn the fennel when you are turning the fennel leaf with the stick cutter. It is possible to burn both the leaves and the stem, although this often occurs with young fennel that is still very young. If you find that the fennel starts to turn dark and smoky, it is time to cut the plant into two pieces and remove the middle piece first. Leaving a long stem of the plant on the piece of wood that was turned first allows the flavor to remain in the center. After cutting the fennel into two pieces, you can place the pieces in a glass and add a light layer of sugar or honey so that the oils of the plant remain intact. This roasting process also ensures that there is a good amount of smoke flavor in your coffee.
When you have finished the sweet and spicy roasting of fennel, take about one tablespoon of the roasted leaves and fill a small airtight container. Place the fennel inside and cover tightly. Place this container in the fridge for about five days to let the fennel absorb the flavor of the spices. After about seven days, transfer the fennel to a food processor or blender, taking care to remove any large pieces of hard outer skin that may have remained after roasting. Add water to the blender or processor to ensure a smooth puree when using it.