tomato fennel soup and a revolution

I love fennel. Hands down my favorite winter vegetable. Crisp and fresh for winter salads and velvety-sweet and aromatic cooked in soups or gratins or roasted under a chicken, I eat it all winter long. But, I don’t have much company. It’s just me and the fennel on this one. 

John asked me the other day to guess what vegetable was topping the list “would rather get less of” for the CSAs at The Food Project . Ummm, Turnips? Nope. Rutabaga? Nope. That nasty bitter green that starts with an “M?” You mean Mizuna? Yeah! Nope. What then? Fennel. 

Poor misunderstood fennel. Even people who like veggies enough to get an in season weekly share of them don’t like fennel. Time to start a fennel revolution. 

So, here’s a recipe to ease you into fennel if you’ve never had it or you’re one of the fennel haters. Fennel has a slightly anise-y flavor which mellows as it cooks. It’s naturally sweet an makes great company for anything with a little acid. Any kind of citrus, some thinly sliced fennel, a spicy green, and a few shavings of parmesan makes a perfect winter salad. Here, the tomatoes provide the acidity and the base of the soup, and the fennel takes a supporting roll. Serve this soup with a good drizzling of olive oil, some crumbled cheese (try goat cheese, parm, or sharp cheddar), and some fresh cracked pepper. With some toasted bread and maybe a salad (ahem, see above) this is a hearty lunch or dinner. Serves 4.  Adapted loosely from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life.

For the Soup

A good pour of olive oil (2-3 tbsp)
1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 medium bulb of fennel, stem removed, cored, and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28oz can good quality whole tomatoes, crushed slightly
1 bay leaf
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

To Core the Fennel: Chop off the stems just above the bulb. Cut the bulb in half lengthwise. You should see a triangular core towards the base of the fennel. This piece is fairly tough, so you want to remove it by simply cutting it out with a knife. Once the core is removed, chop the fennel roughly just as you would an onion. Save some of the fronds (the green bits that look like dill) for garnish. These can also be chopped and added to salad.

Make the Soup: Place a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat and warm the olive oil. Add the fennel and onion and sauté with a pinch of salt until soft and slightly translucent about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté an additional 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, the bay leaf, and the thyme sprigs and reduce the heat to low. Using the tomato can, measure 2/3 of a can of water and add that to the soup also. Cook on low 45-60 minutes. The soup should be simmering slightly, but not boiling. 
Working in small batches, transfer the soup to a food processor and purée until smooth. Alternatively, use an emersion blender to purée the soup in its pot. Return the puréed soup to the pot and warm. Add the red wine vinegar and season with salt and pepper.