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I'm working my way through peak winter produce, before the spring (ahem, finally) comes and takes all of winter's underrated bounty with it. I've covered citrus, pomegranate, and celeriac here, but I'd be remiss in not mentioning one of my cold weather favorites: fennel.
Lightly sweet and anise scented, fennel is a no brainer for the cocktail category. I garnish and infuse with star anise constantly, and fennel is just as versatile. As the weather maybe, possibly, pretty-please-let-it-be-soon begins to warm up, I like to use it in a light, low ABV spritz, which makes an excellent brunch cocktail or aperitif. The lengthening daylight hours practically demand a lighter sip to enjoy them with.
This spritz is deceptively simple -- the fennel adds drama to what is essentially just a nice tall glass of elderflower liqueur and seltzer. Add a slice of citrus (I prefer lime but lemon, particularly Meyer lemon, is just as dreamy), and you're good to go. If you want to up the ABV, you can use prosecco instead of seltzer. A spritz is never fussy, which is probably why the format has endured. A carelessly made Manhattan is going to show its flaws, but a spritz will hide them well.
I infuse my elderflower liqueur with fennel bulb first, then spoon a bit of the infused fennel into the bottom of each glass to be muddled for an extra bit of flavor. I use a peeler on the stalks to make fennel ribbons to garnish with, usually swirled inside the glass or propped up with some fennel fronds on a slice of lime. If you can get your hands on it, fennel pollen also makes a great addition -- the lightly floral scent bridges the elderflower and anise flavors seamlessly.
Even if warmer days are still far on the horizon, this decidedly winterized spritz will have you in a sunny state of mind. It does justice to this season while capturing the promise of the next.
(1) For the infusion, combine 3 slices fennel bulb, roughly chopped, in 1 cup elderflower liqueur. Let sit, covered, for 1 hour, then strain through a fine mesh sieve. Reserve infused fennel for muddling.
(2) In the bottom of a chilled collins glass, add a tablespoon of the infused fennel and 1 slice citrus. Muddle, then top with ice.
(3) Pour 1.5 oz infused elderflower liqueur over the ice, then top with seltzer. Stir lightly and serve with a straw.