If you drive between canberra and sydney you are probably shit-bored for most of the three hours on a friday night, desperate to get to the bright lights and whatever is drawing you there in the first place. The advantage of staring blankly out the window when you’re supposed to be concentrating on the road is that you start to notice things that can be used in your two-bit food blog that nobody reads. Things like cows and grass and empty coke cans. And wild fennel. There is lots of wild fennel on the hume highway.
Wild fennel is different from its commercially available cousin in that the bulbs themselves are pretty small and pissweak. The flowers, however, have an intense, heady, savoury anise perfume that is nothing like the fresh citrussy flavour of fennel you buy at the markets. It seemed like the perfect pairing for an equally unusual ingredient we’ve had in the pantry for months – bee pollen. Together, they evoke the taste of the end of summer: fading wildflowers, warm honey, orange blossoms.
The inspiration for this dish came from a throwaway line in an article about the fennel pollen and goat’s cheese tortelloni served at new york’s famous babbo restaurant. Without a recipe – but a handful of foraged wild fennel from the roadside – we worked backwards and this is what we came up with.
(makes about 20 pieces)
whole egg pasta
2 cups tipo 00 pasta flour
3 free range eggs
pinch of salt
120g crumbly goat’s cheese
2 1/2 tsp bee pollen
1/2 tsp finely chopped orange zest plus extra for garnish)
handful of wild fennel flowers and a few small bulbs
pinch of salt
Sift the flour into a mound on a clean work surface. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs into it with a pinch of salt. With a fork, gently mix the eggs, slowly incorporating the flour into the mixture. When the dough starts to hold together, knead it with your hands until smooth.
If the mixture is too wet, add a small amount of flour; too dry, a small amount of water. If you are lazy like us, you can just throw everything in a bread machine and let it do the work for you. Lot less messy too. When it’s ready, wrap the dough in glad wrap and place in the fridge while you make the filling.
Mix the goat’s cheese, pollen, finely chopped orange zest and pepper. The bee pollen granules will start to soften and bleed colour into the cheese. To make the ravioli, dust a clear work space with flour and attach your pasta machine to the bench. Stretch the dough into 4 thin sheets. We found setting 6 is about right for ravioli. If you use a rolling pin, go as thin as you can.
Place grape sized pieces of the mixture every 5cm along the length of a sheet. With a pastry brush, run a line of water along one of the long edges of the pastry and between each piece of filling. Place another sheet on top and gently press to seal each one, making sure to push as much air out from around the filling as you can. Run another line of water along the remaining long edge of pastry and close. Cut the ravioli into squares and seal edges tightly with a ravioli cutter or press down firmly with a fork. Dust with flour so they don’t stick to each other. You can freeze the ravioli at this point if you don’t want to use them immediately, but keep in mind they will take a few minutes longer to cook when you get around to it.
When you are ready to plate up, bring some salted water to the boil and cook the ravioli (2-3 minutes if fresh, 5-6 if frozen). Meanwhile, melt the butter over a medium heat. Add salt (if using) and the fennel flowers, leaves and bulbs as the butter starts to foam. When the ravioli are cooked, gently lift them out of the water and transfer to plates. As soon as the butter has browned and the fennel is crispy, remove from the heat and immediately spoon over the ravioli. Garnish with a few fresh fennel flowers and some orange zest.