Tarquinia wild fennel – which is also known as finocchiella – is a perennial spontaneous herbaceous plant belonging to the Apiaceae family (ombrellifere). Its stem is branched and can reach two meters in height. The shape of the green leaves is reminiscent of hay, a characteristic from which its name Foeniculum vulgare is derived from. In summer it produces small yellow umbrella-like flowers followed by fruits (achene), which are initially green and then greyish. The parts of the plant used are the buds, leaves, flowers and fruits, which are commonly improperly called seeds. The flavour of the dried product is sweet and delicate.
It shares many properties with the classic cultivated fennel, but wild fennel does not produce the white heart.
This aromatic plant is widespread throughout the Mediterranean basin, especially in Sicily and Sardinia. It was present in the Tarquinia territory since the Etruscan period and has spread over time along the coastal area up to the border with the territory of Monte Romano. The climate of these areas is in fact wonderfully Mediterranean, characterised by particularly dry summers that enhance the nutraceutical characteristics of this aromatic plant. In addition to its organoleptic qualities, it also treats gastro-intestinal disorders and is a diuretic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Today, in the Tarquinia territory there are some farmers who keep the local seeds and provide them to others for sowing. Despite being a wild plant, it can also be cultivated. However, it spreads quickly if it is not kept under control. To prevent it from spreading too much, the flowers must be cut before they produce seeds.
It is pretty much only cultivated by small local farmers, who manage the land in a sustainable way so that the areas where the plants grow are preserved.
The fennel is used a lot in the recipes of the Tarquinia gastronomic tradition, especially the dried sprouts which are used to accompany pork and congilio porchettato.
The most classic combination is with the ferlengo mushroom (or chanterelle), a mushroom that grows by attaching itself as a parasite to the root of the ferula plant, they are whitish and light brown, with a fleshy head which is in the shape of a fan or shell. Ferlengo mushrooms are cooked on the grill and seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and wild fennel, or in the oven accompanied by potatoes and wild fennel.