Friday, August 21, 2009

Of Summer Rain, Fennel, Almost-Butterflies and Italian fried Sage

We had the most wonderful storm in the early morning. Any good rain in Texas in August is cause for celebration, and this was a full out thunderstorm with impressive crashing and lashing during the pre-dawn to dawn hours. I went outside an hour or more after the rain had stopped and smelled the anise-y, ouzo, almost-licorice scent of fennel.

I intended to gather seeds and pull up the remaining overgrown and spent fennel in my garden several days ago, but when I went out to do it, I found a plump little visitor.

Swallowtail caterpillar on fennel

At that moment he was munching on the dried seeds and not the fronds, but the next day he had moved on to the greenery. He is still on a branch today, and this afternoon I finally gathered some of the fennel seeds. We are hoping he makes his cocoon and transforms in our garden.

I now have a little baggy of fennel seeds and am thinking of the lentil and vegetable soup I made several times last summer, fragrant with cumin and fennel seed.

So many of the seeds have already dropped that we're sure to have a jungle of fennel seedlings this fall!

Tonight, though, I'm focusing on another herb in my garden: sage. I am going to make a maiden attempt at an Italian preparation of sage leaves, battered and fried...very simple. I have read about this in a number of books about Italy, and especially in cookbooks and books about food and Italian food festivals, but have never had it. The recipe I plan to use for reference is from Marlena de Blasi's memoir, A Thousand Days in Tuscany. Little more than flour, beer and sea salt, the batter can also be used for squash blossoms and other edilbe flowers and delicate vegetables. I have no idea what Italian beer is like, but Edward's fancy ale will have to do.