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!