Leaves: Immature fennel leaves should be harvested in the morning after the dew has dried. Look for dark green leaves, free of disease and damage from insects.
Seeds: Harvest seed after it has started to dry within the pod, but before the pod has fully opened.
Preparing for Freezing:
Leaves: Fennel leaves will lose their crisp texture during freezing but will retain good flavor and be suitable for cooked dishes. Gently wash fresh leaves and blot dry. Strip leaves off stalks and either chop leaves or freeze them whole.
Seeds: It's better to dry fennel seeds than freeze them. Lay them on a cookie sheet tray in direct sun for 4 to 6 hours to dry. Alternatively, place them in an oven heated to 120ºF for 4 to 6 hours. Store in plastic bags or airtight containers until used.
Best Freezing Method(s):
Bags: It's not necessary to blanch fennel leaves before freezing. Just place washed, blotted dry leaves directly into bags or containers, seal and freeze.
Pastes: Many herbs freeze well when made into a paste. Add two cups of fresh fennel leaves to a food processor along with a 1/3 of a cup of extra-virgin olive oil or other salad oil. Blend until a paste forms. Pack the mixture into suitable containers for freezing, or freeze smaller mounds on cookie trays until firm and then transfer them to plastic bags for long term storage.
Ice Cubes: A convenient way to freeze herbs for soups and stew is to freeze them into ice cubes. Spoon chopped leaves into ices trays, cover with water and freeze.
When frozen, transfer cubes into plastic freezer bags and use as needed.
Freezer containers should be moisture and vapor resistant and should not be prone to cracking or breaking at low temperatures. Containers should provide protection against absorbing flavors or odors and should be easy to label. Suitable packaging for freezing fennel includes freezer-grade plastic bags, rigid plastic containers or glass containers and ice cube trays.
Maximum Storage Time:
Store dried fennel seeds and leaves in the pantry for 6 months. Store frozen fennel leaves (including paste and cubes) for 1 year or more at 0ºF.
Bagged leaves, pastes and cubes can all be removed from the freezer and added directly to dishes while cooking.
Tips & Shortcuts:
Try drying fennel leaves in the microwave by placing a single layer of leaves between paper towels and drying them for 1 or 2 minutes. Be careful not to over dry or the leaves will taste burnt and may even catch on fire. Some microwaves should not be used for this, so consult with your microwave manufacturer before drying herbs in your microwave.
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