Tag Archives: fennel pollen


Our daughter, Carol, has been visiting us for a few days without her family. For her it has been a relaxing time with no chauffeuring duties to swimming, school meetings, the morning school rush, and cooking. She has been doing some work from her office, but she has also found time to sleep a little late, to shop, and to eat out.

Carol has her own big library of cookbooks, but it is different from my collection, so she has spent time leafing through some of my newer acquisitions. She also enjoys working in the kitchen with Susan and me, and we enjoy that, too.  We agreed to cook together on a recipe that appealed to her. She found a recipe in Flour + Water (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2014), the eponymous cookbook from the San Francisco restaurant owned by Thomas McNaughton, a friend of Sarah and Evan.

The recipe she chose was entitled, “Corzetti with Sausage, Clams, and Fennel”, page 186. It involved making pasta – which sounded like fun. The challenge was to re-create the corzetti. Oretta Zanini de Vita (Encyclopedia of Pasta, translated by Maureen B. Fant, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2009) describes the pasta dating back to the thirteenth century and consisting of a bit of pasta dough with two thumb indentations to resemble an “8”. That shape was apparently for commoners because by the Renaissance the pasta was often pressed with special wooden stamps that included coats of arms and other designs. These days you can buy corzetti stamps on the Internet. They are designed to cut the pasta into circles with an imprint on both sides. The little devices are often made of exotic woods and quite beautiful. Trouble is, you have to make a lot of corzetti to justify the purchase as the stamps run $60 or more.

We made do with what I had: a 1½ inch ring from my nest of pastry cutters and a wooden mold that I use for butter and springerle cookies. Carol and I wound up imprinting only one side of the pasta, but that was effort enough for two cooks. The finished pasta, though, cooked beautifully, and the sauce was delicious. It all turned out to be a perfect meal with a nice Italian red, a tossed salad, and a fresh baguette. Pistachio gelatto finished it off. This recipe should serve four generously.

Note: Fennel “pollen” is a common ingredient on the West Coast as wild fennel grows prolifically along the roadsides from south of Big Sur to north of the Bay Area. The yellow “pollen” (I think it is actually the flowers and seeds) is often foraged by chefs from the Bay Area. Ground toasted fennel seeds will make an adequate substitute.




  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1½ teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • water


  1. Heap the flour in the middle of a large, flat, clean surface. Form a well in the middle. Add the salt
  2. Add the eggs, egg yolks, and olive oil to the well, and with a fork, combine the eggs and oil, being careful not to incorporate any of the flour. When the eggs are combined, gradually pull bits of the flour into the mixture until it is completely incorporated. Sprinkle in a few drops of water if you cannot incorporate all of the flour.
  3. Draw the mixture into a ball. Knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and slightly shiny. Add a few more drops of water if necessary. Wrap with plastic film and let rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
  4. When you are ready to roll out the pasta, cut the dough in fourths, working with one piece at a time and rewrapping the remaining pieces.
  5. Pat the piece of dough into a flattened, elongated piece and run it through the pasta machine rollers at the widest setting. Fold in thirds and run through the rollers once more. Repeat the process one more time. Then run the dough through the rollers, decreasing the setting by steps until you have reached the thickness you desire.  (Different machines will have different settings.) You shouldn’t need to flour the dough, but if it is too sticky, lightly dust it while you roll it out.
  6. Place the rolled dough under a clean kitchen towel while you roll out the remaining pieces of dough.
  7. With a 1½ inch circular pastry cutter, cut the sheets of pasta. Then, using a stamp of the same diameter, press firmly on each dough circle to form an imprint. Separate the imprinted circles from the remaining dough (Save that for some other use.) and let rest until you are ready to boil it.

Sausage and Clam Sauce


  • 3 pounds Little Neck clams
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil + more for sautéing the sausage
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups + ½ cup white wine
  • 8 ounces bulk pork sausage
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • ½ teaspoon fennel pollen (if you can’t harvest your own fennel pollen, dry-toast fennel seeds and grind finely in a spice grinder. Substitute ½ teaspoon of the ground fennel
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 tablespoon snipped chives
  • grated Romano cheese (optional)


  1. Scrub the clams and let them stand in cold water in a colander for a few minutes to give up their sand. Drain.
  2. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over a high flame. Stir in the shallot and cook until translucent. Add the sliced garlic, 2 cups of white wine, and the washed clams. Cover and cook until the clams open, about 10 minutes. Remove the clams and continue to boil the liquid until it has reduced by half. Cool the liquid completely.
  3. Remove the clams from their shells and return to the cooled liquid. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  4. Wipe the sauté pan clean and return to high heat. Add a tablespoon or so of the olive oil. Then stir in the sausage and brown on all sides, breaking it up as you cook it. Stir in the red onion. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in the fennel and minced garlic. Continue to cook until the garlic is lightly browned (Do not burn!). Add ½ cup of white wine and boil until it has almost completely evaporated.
  6. Add the chicken stock, the clams, and their cooking liquid. Bring to the simmer.


  1. Cook the pasta by adding it to a large pot of boiling, well-salted water. Return to the boil and cook for 3 – 5 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. Be careful not to overcook.
  2. Drain the pasta and add to the sausage and clam sauce. Simmer the mixture for 2 to 3 minutes until the sauce thickens a bit. Adjust the seasoning with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
  3. Divide the pasta and sauce between four plates, top with parsley and chives, and serve immediately. Top with optional grated Romano cheese.


Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes, Restaurants


One of the favorites on the Rich Table menu is Sarah’s country style levain. The bread is served warm with house-churned cultured butter. Sometimes the bread is scented with Douglas fir, but the most popular version is when it is flavored with wild fennel “pollen”. The pollen is actually the bright yellow tiny flowers of wild pollen that grows all over Northern California and blooms from mid to late summer. Rich Table has their own forager who brings the pollen in from fields north of San Francisco, and the restaurant has an abundance now. Unfortunately the source is regional and seasonal – that’s one of the reasons for using Douglas fir – but if you don’t happen to live in Northern California, ground fennel seeds can make a workable substitute. The smell and taste are not as delicate, and if you use too much can be overpowering, so use it carefully.

On a recent visit to San Francisco, I watched Sarah make her bread in the basement prep kitchen at Rich Table. The experience inspired me to try to adapt the recipe for the home baker. This is pretty close to the real thing, but Sarah did not share any of her baking secrets with Old Dad.

Sarah’s recipe makes twelve large loves, too much for the home baker. For that reason, I have pared down the ingredients to make two generous loaves. I have made some other modifications to make it easier for the home baker. First, professional bakers weigh their ingredients, while home bakers usually measure things in cups and spoons, so I have set the quantities in the home style. Second, if you have your own sourdough starter, that is great, but if you don’t you can substitute packaged dry yeast. Third, if you have harvested your own wild fennel “pollen” (actually fennel flowers) that’s also great, but you can substitute ground fennel from your spice shelf.  Finally, you can mix the dough by hand, but that is a labor of love, so I have used a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook for the kneading and gluten-release process. Resting times are very important to make sure the gluten releases and supports good lift of the dough.


Levain with Fennel Fragrance


  • 3 cups + ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup levain* or substitute 1 envelope dry yeast
  • 6 cups bread flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup rye flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground fennel seeds
  • vegetable shortening or butter for greasing bread pans

* Baker’s note: You can find the method for making your own levain or sour dough starter in an earlier post. If you choose to use yeast instead, increase the water and flour in the recipe by ½ cup each.


  1. Place 3 cups water in the large bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix in the levain (it should float in the water, otherwise it has not risen enough) or yeast. You should feed your levain the night before you bake to make sure it has good rising power the next morning.
  2. Slowly mix in the flour, a cup or so at a time.  When the dough becomes stiff enough, change to the dough hook attachment.
  3. Add all the flour. Then beat with the dough hook at a slow speed for 10 minutes until smooth and shiny.
  4. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 30 minutes.
  5. Dissolve the salt in the ¼ cup water.
  6. Beat the salt mixture and ground fennel into the rested dough until completely incorporated.
  7. With a scraper, transfer the dough to a large metal bowl.
  8. Cover the dough with a plastic film and let rest for 30 minutes. Then turn the dough gently in all directions with moistened, clean hands. Recover the dough with the plastic film.
  9. Repeat turning the dough every 30 minutes for three additional times.
  10. Turn the dough out on a well-floured work surface. Divide into two equal pieces. Each piece should weigh a little over 2 pounds.
  11. Shape each piece of dough into a ball and let rest for 5 minutes.
  12. After the rest, shape the dough by lifting the far edge of the ball and pulling it to the center. Repeat this motion in all directions. Pinch closed any seams and let rest, covered with a cloth, for 10 minutes while you prepare the baking pans.
  13. Prepare two 9 x 5 inch bread pans by greasing the insides well with vegetable shortening  or butter.
  14. Arrange the dough pieces, seam side down, in the two bread pans, cover with a clean cloth, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled.
  15. While the bread is rising, pre-heat the oven to 450°F (232 °C)
  16. When the loaves have risen, slash the tops with a sharp knife and transfer to the middle of the pre-heated oven.
  17. Bake for 15 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F  (177°C) and continue to bake for 45 additional minutes. Turn the loaves front to back at least once during the baking.
  18. At the end of the baking time, test for doneness by thumping the bottoms for a hollow sound. Transfer the baked loaves to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.


Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes, Restaurants, Travel


While I was in California the last two weeks, I got to see my daughter and son-in-law’s pop-up dinners first-hand. Not only did I get to give them a little help prepping (We just need to humor poor old Dad.) but also my wife and I got to enjoy the meal that they had prepared. Once again, the dinner was held on Monday night at the restaurant, Radius – a night when the restaurant was usually closed. The space is modern and sparely furnished and located in SoMa, so it attracts a younger crowd, and there were plenty in attendance at the pop-up. The waitstaff were all very capable and friendly. Most of them had known my kids from other venues around town and had volunteered to help on their nights off.

Dad prepping

Evan and Sarah Rich in the kitchen

Of course, as parents of the chef, we were welcomed warmly, but to my eye, everyone was receiving the same attentive service as we were.
The warm-up was a flute of California sparkling wine, Roederer Estate Brut, Anderson Valley, to go with a plate of nearly transparent rice crackers sprinkled with crunchy poppy seeds. Then along came a beautiful amuse bouche of bite-sized corn fritters, nested on a creamy smooth red pepper coulis. The fritters were filled with fresh corn kernels and a creamy filling. They were crispy on the outside because of their coats of artisanal heirloom cornmeal.

Corn fritter and red pepper sauce

Next came a bright salad of tender beets topped with little clouds of goat cheese that had been whipped to an incredible lightness. Flame grapes were displayed along the edges, and snippets of fresh dill fronds made the classic combination of beets and dill.

The palate cleanser then made its appearance: a tiny little bowl of gazpacho which had been gelled and infused with air to practically float on the spoon. An icy granite topped the gazpacho, and garlic flowers on top provided the extra bite that made this dish memorable.

Beet and goat cheese salad

Gazpacho with granite and garlic flowers

The fish course was composed of perfectly sautéed bites of squid in a black olive vinaigrette and accompanied by the sweetness of red and yellow watermelon and the savor of crispy onions.

The meat course picked up the theme of black with tender, aromatic slices of roasted pork shoulder set in a pool of black garlic puree and covered with a bouquet of edible flowers. Bites of white cauliflower and tiny little heads of Roman broccoli completed the dish. It came with a tray of fennel-pollen-scented baguette. The bread was clearly intended to sop up any extra black garlic. One of the guests at the next table asked for extra bread to make sure his plate was completely clean.

Squid with black olive vinaigrette and watermelon

Dessert was labelled as “peach cobbler” on the menu, just to let you know it wouldn’t be your mother’s peach cobbler, and it wasn’t: a delicate panna cotta flavored with baked pie crust, laced with bits of fresh peaches, topped with a streudel that included crunchy bits of corn to return to the theme that started the whole evening.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, we finished with two beautiful red curls that combined the earthiness of red pepper with the sweetness of candy. It reminded me of the fruit leather of my childhood, but with a sophisticated taste and texture that left those memories far behind.  All in all, it was a wonderful restaurant experience.

I also need to give special credit to two of Sarah and Evan’s friends: Daniel Brooks made these beautiful images while I was busy eating.  Danny is also a private chef in the San Francisco area. Jamie Law has been a constant friend who continues to provide amazing help in publicizing these pop-up events.

"Peach cobbler"

Sarah and Evan will be doing more pop-ups in the near future. If you would like to see the menus or reserve a place, you can check out their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/ChefsNightOff or you can email them at chefsnightoff@gmail.com to be put on their mailing list for upcoming events and menus.


Filed under Food, Photography, Restaurants