Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Herb of the Week - Anise

This week I want to clear up a bit of confusion by focusing on a uniquely flavored plant -- Anise. 

This is not to be confused with Star Anise which is a shrub/tree with hard star-shape fruit. Or the purple Plant referred to as Anise Plant.  But rather Pimpinella anisum a member of the carrot family that grows tall and produces umbels of seeds we call aniseed.

According to Pliny the Elder, anise was used as a cure for sleeplessness.  It could also be chewed in the morning with a bit of honey to freshen the breath.  And if mixed with wine was a treatment for asp bites.  In the 1860s American Civil War nurse Maureen Hellstrom used aniseed as an early form of antiseptic.  But was not the most effective as it created sensitivity and raised the levels of toxicity in the blood, resulting in discontinuing its use in this way.
To grow
This annual plant is best grown from seed.  In zones 5 to 7 you can sow seeds directly in the garden in spring once the soil and air are warm.  In colder climates you can start them indoors.  In the south sow the seed in fall.  In all cases plant them ¼ to ½ inch deep and thin the seedlings to 8 inches apart.  They do have a weak stem so closer together is okay too.  They prefer full sun in a light, fast-draining soil that is worked deep and soft.  Kind of a picky plant, in hot humid weather it will die back or bolt and it does not like windy conditions or weed competitors either.
To use
The seeds are the most commonly used part of anise plant.  They are easy to store and are great in the winter steamed with root vegetables like turnips, parsnips and carrots.  They are also a great companion to cabbage.  The natural sweetness makes them a good accompaniment to fruits, in muffins and cookies.  The fresh leaves lend a nice flavor to salads, sauces and soups.  It is used as a breath freshener after meals, which means you can use it well in desserts or after dinner teas.  It is purported to help with bloating, wind and the restoration of equilibrium when taken as tea.

Anise - Orange Seafood Skewers

1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon anise seed
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound large scallops

Mix orange juice, oil, anise seed, garlic salt, ginger and pepper in small bowl.
Place seafood in large resealable plastic bag and add marinade; turn to coat seafood.

Refrigerate 30 minutes. Remove seafood from bag and discard marinade.
Thread shrimp and scallops onto skewers.

Grill over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes or until shrimp turns pink and scallops are
cooked through. Serve with Honey Ginger Dipping Sauce (recipe follows).
Honey Ginger Dipping Sauce:
Mix 3/4 cup orange juice, 2 tablespoons each honey, soy sauce and
sliced green onions, and 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger.

Anise Seed Biscotti

Biscotti (plural of Italian biscotto, roughly meaning "twice baked") are crisp Italian cookies often containing nuts or flavored with anise.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 whole eggs
1 egg, separated
1 Tablespoon anise infusion
3 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon milk


Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. beat in the 2 whole eggs, l egg white and extract until blended. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. With spatula or wooden spoon, thoroughly blend flour mixture into egg mixture. On floured surface, knead dough one minute or until smooth. Divide dough in half. On greased baking sheets, shape the dough into a log of about 3 inches wide and 15 inches long. Beat reserved yolk with milk, brush over top and sides.

Bake at 375 25-30 minutes or until pick is clean. Cool slightly. On baking sheets, cut loaves diagonally in 3/4" slices. Lay slices on sides and bake 5 minutes turning over once until golden and lightly toasted. Cool. Store tight in airtight containers.

Makes 36

To make the infusion, place 3 Tbls anise seeds in heat resistant c bowl and add 1/2 cup boiling water.  Allow to steep for at least 15 minutes.  More if you have time.  Use the resulting liquid to flavor water or make this recipe.

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