I adore fennel seeds. I put them in Italian sausage when I make my own, and I use the seeds - whole or ground - in pasta sauce. Not all the time. But it's a flavor I really like with tomatoes.
When I opened the jar of wild fennel, it had the same familiar smell of regular fennel, but there was a difference - hard to describe, really - but it made me anxious to use it in a dish where it was the only spice, so I could taste it without too many competing flavors.
So of course I made pasta. What else? This is a quick recipe where the sauce is done in the time it takes to cook the pasta. If you don't have wild fennel seeds, regular fennel seeds would be fine. If you don't have that, basil or oregano would be great, too - or even a mix of spices. Use what you like; it's your dinner.
As far as whether I like the wild fennel better than regular fennel - well, I'm not sure yet. But that's okay. For the spices I like a lot, I often have several different varieties. I've always got several types of cinnamon, and I usually have both Mexican oregano along with at least one other type. I almost always have several vanillas.
So I kind if like the idea that I now have two different types of fennel seed to choose from. Is anyone else ever going to notice? I have no idea. I think I'll make two different batches of Italian sausage next and do a side-by-side comparison. Maybe then I'll be able to tell you what the difference is.
Pasta with Wild Fennel Seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, finely diced
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons wild fennel
8-10 small tomatoes
While you're cooking the pasta, make the sauce.
Heat the olive oil in a saute pan on medium heat. Add the onion and cook for a minute or two before adding the garlic and salt. Crush some of the fennel seeds and add all of them to the pan.
Core the tomatoes, cut them into chunks, and add them to the pot. Cook, stirring as needed, until the tomatoes break down a bit.
Taste for seasoning and add salt, if needed.
When the pasta is cooked to just al dente, add it to the pot with the sauce, and cook it with the sauce for another 30 seconds or so. If the pasta seems too dry, add some of the pasta cooking water.