When you think of seasonal fall veggies, what's your first thought? Cabbage? Acorn or butternut squash? Maybe sweet potatoes? What about one of my favorite fall veggies, fennel? Is fennel even in your top 10? Whoa! You're not familiar with fennel? Okay, maybe you know it as anise since it goes by both names. (A veggie with an aka?! Is there a veggie witness protection program? What has fennel done?!)
Even if you haven't actually tried it, I hope you've at least noticed the bulbous, celery-like, ferny-topped pretty veg in the produce aisle. Did you get close up enough to get a good whiff? Licorice! At least a nicely mild licorice scent. It tastes gently licorice-y, too.
Raw, fennel has the almost the same crunch of celery and resembles the cooked texture of celery. A fresh raw fennel salad is wonderful with buttery greens and a nice fennel/orange vinaigrette...with maybe a few sliced, toasted and salted almonds over the top. My friend, Marti, makes a fabulous fennel gratin! that appeared here in May of 2012.
This time, it was soup I had in mind. Specifically, a nice chilled cream of fennel soup with leeks, brightened with just a squeeze of lemon before serving. One nice thing about making this cream soup ahead is you end up having a choice. Hmmmm...to serve it chilled like vichyssoise or warm? Our warm October day made the choice an easy one - chilled!
Since fennel is such a subtle flavor, it was the perfect opportunity to use one of my new favorite spices, fennel pollen. It really amps up the fennel volume. You know how heat intensifies flavor and releases more of the bouquet of a soup, chilled soups often need just a little more oomph of flavor. That's where the lemon came in, too. A little squeeze of fresh lemon just before serving took the flavors over the top!
Next time you see fennel in the produce aisle or at you local farmers market, pick it up, inhale the sweet scent and give it a try. Oh...and those beautiful fronds? Use them for a garnish or chopped in salads or make fennel simple syrup. It makes for a lovely cocktail! Just wait and see in a few days when my fennel syrup is done and gets together with a little gin! See you then.
Chilled Fennel Leek Soup With Lemon
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 4 cups leeks, sliced almost to stem end lengthwise into quarters, run under water while fanning out the leaves, being sure to wash all sand and dirt from top to bottom - pat dry and slice across into about 1/4" pieces - I used 3 leeks
- 4 cups fennel bulbs - remove the stalks and fronds, remove any tough outer layers, slice in half lengthwise and cut into slivers - I used 3 medium bulbs - be sure to reserve the fronds for garnishes and other uses
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 cup half and half
- 1 cup potato flakes, be sure it's a gluten-free brand to make this GF (Why potato flakes? They thicken the soup without using flour...one of my favorite tricks for thickening soups and still keeping it gluten-free!)
- 1/16 teaspoon nutmeg
- Tabasco sauce, just a couple drops or so for zing
- 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon chicken soup base - similar to bouillon, but not as salty
- 1 teaspoon fennel pollen, plus more for garnish
In a large, heavy soup pot, melt the butter, then add the leeks, fennel and garlic. Cook and stir over low until the veggies are very soft. Add the stock, bring to boil and lower to a simmer. Cover and cook until the veggies are VERY soft. Remove from heat.
Cool slightly, then buzz with a stick blender until smooth. Check the bottom of the stick blender occasionally. If the bottom gets clogged with fibers from the veggies, pull them out and discard them. I had to do that a couple of times.
Once the soup is smooth, return to low heat and add the half & half, potato flakes, nutmeg, Tabasco, soup base and fennel pollen. Stir well with a whisk or wooden spoon. - you don't need the stick blender here! Refrigerate overnight.
The next day, adjust the seasonings - add salt only if necessary. Whisk well and ladle into bowls if you're serving the soup chilled. Warm it up if you want it hot...your decision...both equally yum!
If serving chilled, garnish with a fennel frond or chopped fennel, a pinch of fennel pollen and a squeeze of lemon. Enjoy!
NOTE: If you want the soup extra silky and creamy, after pureeing the soup with the stick blender, put the soup through a food mill. I don't think it's necessary...I like a bit of texture!
NOTE 2: If you use vegetable stock in place of chicken stock, you've got a vegetarian soup!
NOTE 3: You can get fennel pollen online at Gourmet Delights. LOVE this site! (That's where I get my truffle salt, too!)
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