Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tomato and Fennel Soup

Phew. Another hard work week gone by (by the time this posts, a couple of weeks), filled with labor, late nights, and eating at the same restaurant every day of the week with co-workers... the glory of business travel. Funny how those things work. At the start of the week I was thrilled for oxtails and scallops with wine-butter sauce, but by the end of the week I was practically crying for salads and lightly cooked veggies, with maybe a ravioli or two. And because the weekly schedule was work, dinner, work, get to hotel at ass-o-clock AM, try to sleep and fail because of strange hotel room, up, work... by the time I wrapped my lips around a glass of wine, I was about ready to compose florid verse in praises of the grape. Yeah, that atmosphere did not conduct itself to a desire to cook once I dragged myself home. I made a halfhearted attempt at celery remoulade, but was thwarted by the lack of celeriac (I swear I saw it at the market last week... or was it two weeks ago? Guess that will have to wait for autumn, now). I collapsed in exhaustion, and woke up wanting something simple, nutritious, and above all, EASY. So I chose this tomato and fennel soup.

Now, don't get me wrong kids, it is still May, and there aren't any worthwhile tomatoes out yet. But here's the awesome thing, tomato and fennel soup from the Les Halles Cookbook uses tomatoes in a CAN! I used to be mighty skeptical about any food that comes in a can, because in my experience canning tends to turn veggies into a slimy, preserved mess. Just think of all that canned spinach and canned beet you were subjected to as a child! Fresh roasted beet is like an orgasm compared to canned beet, amirite? But recently I have come to love canned tomatoes. This is partly because of a determination to never, ever buy out-of-season fresh tomatoes that I made a few years ago, but mostly because they are just really good for making soups and sauces. They retain their flavor nicely, and the slimy texture disappears once they are cooked down, pureed, or otherwise assembled.

Also, in non-conformance with the rest of my project, I ended up making this soup on a weeknight. Yes, you heard me. It is that easy.

First, I cored two fennel bulbs by cutting them into quarters and removing the core. I sliced them on my mandoline until I had a stack of slices.

A lovely fennel root.

Next, I chopped an onion and a potato.

The potato, onion, and chopped fennel.

I heated some olive oil in my big pot, then added the veggies and cooked them for about ten minutes.

Next, the tomatoes went into the pot to cook.

Finally I added 6 cups of chicken stock and cooked the whole mess for an hour.

Once the soup was cooked, I blended it all with a hand blender, and added salt and pepper.

To serve, I added salt and pepper, and squirted some balsalmic glaze that I had left over from a French Laundry Cookbookexperiment in a Jackson-Pollocky design I served the soup alongside some grilled cheese.

The color is kind of odd, isn't it? Instead of the murky, red color of canned tomato soup, this is more of a milky orange. But let me tell you, this soup is incredibly delicious. It's creamy with no dairy (yay, potato), and thick to stand up to dipping a grilled cheese sandwich into the bowl. The balsamic glaze is no mean feat either!

Lessons Learned: Making tomato soup from scratch is easy, delicious and satisfying. And it can be done on a weeknight!

Next Week: Something fancy: Chartreuse of Quail.

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