Leggi questo post in: Italiano
As my readers know, I was born and raised in the United States, but moved to Italy years ago and married into a Neapolitan family. Which means that I’ve learned a lot of my husband’s family’s culinary recipes and secrets, lucky me! It would be really hard to choose one favorite hand-me-down recipe, but the wild fennel liqueur recipe definitely ranks way up there!
One of the culinary treats that is most famous from the area where we live is limoncello, a lemon liqueur, but what many people not from this area don’t realize is that there is a plethora of different types of liquers that you can find, and most families have their own traditional versions to make them at home. And my absolute favorite of these is finocchietto, wild fennel liqueur.
Wild fennel grows all over the place in certain areas near us, such as in the Cilento, where we go on vacation frequently. Here is a random finocchietto plant growing on the side of a country road in Pollica, in the heart of the Cilento. They have strong woody stalks with umbrella-shaped groups of yellow flowers, sort of similar to the Queen Anne’s Lace flower.
If you get them at the right time, they also have tender wispy greens that are absolutely delicious with fish and vegetables. The greens and the flowers have a wonderful anise-like taste that I love, but another great thing about them is their digestive properties. Whenever I have problems digesting something, I make myself an infusion of fennel seeds, and it always does the trick.
So a classic in Italian homes is to take the bottle of finocchietto liqueur out after a big meal and have a little glass of it to help digestion.
In June and July, these “umbrellas” look like little hard seeds, though I suppose they’re actually flower buds. Most people pick these seed umbrellas to make their finocchietto fennel liqueur.
But I prefer to pick the flowers themselves (which are also delicious for seasoning and garnishing food) in August/September to make my finocchietto. I’ve always gotten a lot of compliments on how it comes out, so perhaps there is indeed something special about the flavor of the flowers as opposed to the seeds.
This obviously comes out the best when using just-picked flowers or seeds, but if that’s not possible for you, you can always use store-bought dried fennel seeds. I usually pick a ton of flowers in the summer and make a bunch at a time because I like to bring it when we are guests for dinner or for a night away. A bottle of finocchietto is always well-received, so it’s a really great gift!
So what do you say? Do you want to know my beloved wild fennel liqueur recipe? Let’s get started!
For 2 liters of finocchietto you’ll need:
- 2-3 large handfuls of wild fennel flower umbrellas (I’m not sure exactly how many dried fennel seeds you would need, but I’d try with maybe a big handful of them. If you try it that way, let me know!)
- 1 liter of food-grade alcohol (Please, for the love of God, don’t use rubbing alcohol! Alcohol for making liquers is apparently not available in the United States, as far as I know, so use vodka instead.)
- 800 grams sugar
- 2-liter jar that closes hermetically (I use this type of Bormioli brand canning jar* for making liqueurs and homemade iced tea)
- Funnel (definitely a regular funnel, but if you have a wide-mouth funnel*, it’ll be handy in one step)
- Gauze, cheesecloth* or clean dishcloth
How to make wild fennel liqueur:
1. Rinse the fennel flowers well and let them air dry completely on a clean dish towel.
2. Put the dry flowers and the alcohol in the jar*, making sure the flowers are covered. Close the jar and put it in a dark place (such as the back of a cabinet or closet) for at least 30 days.
It’s not a problem if you leave it longer. This past year I somehow kept forgetting to take it out and the fennel stayed in infusion for almost a year! Whoops!
After a day or two, you’ll see the alcohol has a gorgeous green color.
At the end of the 30 days or so, you’ll see that the fennel stalks and flowers have leached out all their color. This means you’re ready for the next step!
3. Make a syrup by boiling 1 liter of water with the 800 grams of sugar for 15 minutes. Then let it cool down.
4. While the syrup is cooling down, filter the alcohol. Put a funnel (I use a wide-mouth funnel* for this step) at the top of another jar (or just another bottle if you don’t have another canning jar) and put a piece of gauze, cheesecloth* or clean dishcloth in the funnel. I usually just use a clean cloth napkin.
Then pour the alcohol through the funnel, making sure that none of the fennel itself gets in.
This is when you can really appreciate how much color has seeped out of the fennel and into the alcohol!
5. Mix the cooled sugar syrup into the filtered alcohol. Pour it into a clean 2-liter hermetically sealing jar (the one you used before is fine, just make sure you wash and dry it first!) and let it sit another 4-5 days in a cool dark place.
6. Now we will filter and bottle the liqueur. Put a regular funnel in the bottle with another piece of gauze, cheesecloth* or clean dishcloth, and pour the mixture into the bottle. (I just reuse the bottles that I buy alcohol in, but you can buy fancier ones if you so desire.)
I use a small ladle to help pour from the full jar, otherwise it spills everywhere, which is a damn shame!
You’ll probably see a bit of organic matter caught in the cloth. Wash the cloth or throw out the gauze.
7. Store the bottles in a cool dark place for at least another 3 months, but the longer you let it sit, the clearer it gets and the better it tastes.
In the picture above you can see the just-bottled batch of liqueur to the left, and on the right is a bottle that I’d made a year or two earlier. Notice how the fresh batch is quite cloudy, while the older batch is very transparent.
One thing to remember is that this is an old-fashioned and natural procedure using fresh products. Therefore there is no avoiding sediment buildup. Fennel liqueur sediment floats to the top of the bottle over time.
When you move the bottle, the sediments will get unlodged and start sinking in the bottle, as you can see in the picture above. It may not look pretty, but it is ABSOLUTELY NORMAL and you can drink it. Otherwise you can try to flick it out of the bottle when it’s concentrated at the top, but you risk spraying out good liqueur that way, too.
Now pour yourself a little shot glass of your homemade finocchietto and marvel at how GOOD it tastes! And remember to drink some next time you have a tummy ache after eating just a bit too much!
If you enjoyed this wild fennel liqueur recipe and want to make some other homemade liqueurs, make sure you try out my traditional Italian recipes for arancello (orange liqueur) and limoncello (lemon liqueur)!
And of course don’t forget to PIN THIS recipe if you liked it!
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