When I latch onto something I find it hard to let go, because apparently I have subconsciously decided it is fennel week at Starting in December. I suppose it makes perfect sense. Fennel, along with potatoes and onions are some of the only fresh things available at the market these days not shipped in from a far away land. And let’s be honest, even those three don’t look particularly great either. Stuffed into my mailbox yesterday were the April issues of Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, teeming with bright photographs of springtime food. Peas, carrots, rhubarb and spring lamb anyone? Yes, please.
My favorite strawberry rhubarb crumble may still be a few short weeks away from bubbling and baking in the oven, but that didn’t stop me this morning from having a smoothie made with frozen strawberries to whet my appetite. It worked. But it got me thinking, why not embrace these last few weeks of winter doldrums with my favorite winter course, soup? I was one of those strange children who loved fruits and vegetables (requesting slices of red bell peppers in my lunchbox) and by extension I adored soup. Minestrone soup, cheddar and broccoli soup, chicken noodle soup — I was happiest when there was a steaming bowl of broth and vegetables in front of me (topped with a shower of Parmesan cheese, of course).
I am not telling you anything you do not already know when I write that soups made at home are often inexpensive, filling and healthy. Plus, you can count on them tasting better than anything from a can. Making this roasted potato fennel soup was a particularly lazy affair — roasting quartered red potatoes with garlic, then pureeing them together with sauteed fennel, onions and homemade chicken stock. We ate our bowls of this rustic soup with grilled gruyere cheese sandwiches and a ice cold beer (c’mon, I have got to sneak in a salute to warm weather somehow). This time of year potatoes and onions cannot hold a candle to the potential of crisp green asparagus, but a warm bowl of soup on a rainy March evening was pretty darn perfect.
roasted potato fennel soup
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
yields 4-5 servings
2 lbs red potatoes, unpeeled and quartered
4T olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves
1t kosher salt
1t ground black pepper
2c yellow onions (2 large onions)
2c fennel bulbs, about 1 lb
6c chicken or vegetable stock
1/2c cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and move an oven rack to the center position.
On a large baking sheet, toss the potatoes with 2T olive oil, whole unpeeled garlic cloves, salt, and pepper.* Roast for 30 minutes, until cooked through.
In a stockpot large enough to hold all of the soup, saute the chopped onions and chopped fennel with 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until vegetables become translucent, about 10 to 15 minutes. To the stockpot add the roasted potatoes (including all of the bits and drippings from the bottom of the baking sheet from the pan) and the stock. Be careful to set aside the whole, roasted garlic cloves. Squeeze the garlic out of the skins and into the soup pot. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to the heat to a simmer. Let the soup simmer, uncovered for one hour, until all of the vegetables are soft. Stir in the heavy cream. Puree the soup using an immersion blender or a regular blender.** Reheat, taste for seasoning and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot.
*I find my hands are the best tool for this job.
**Use extreme caution when blending hot items in a blender. The risk of the hot liquid shooting out of the top of the blender pitcher is so high (I have the stains on my ceiling to prove it) that I wait for the soup to come to room temperature before blending. An immersion blender may be used when the soup is still hot.