Monday, March 9, 2009

Food for a rainy day

Forty degrees and torrential winter rain, plus a long discussion on line about fennel of all things, inspired this meal today.

Nearly identical recipes for tomato fennel soup are all over the web, but I originally found it in the Chicago Tribune Cookbook 20 years ago when I grew fennel and tomatoes in my own garden for the first time. Back then, I grew the wrong kind of fennel (some fennel you grow for seeds, and some for the fleshy bulb). I got the seed kind, which has a woody, inedible root and no bulb. I used it anyway, but it added just flavor, no edibles. This one is made with proper bulb or Florence fennel. The anise flavor of the fennel adds both sweet and savory elements, and compliments the acidic tomato beautifully.

This recipe made two large bowls of soup, which we served with grilled cheese made the America’s Test Kitchen way (with melted butter, butter the bread, not the skillet).

Roasted Tomato and Fennel Soup
Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray; preheat oven to 325F/160C

Halve 6 medium tomatoes (or 8 plum tomatoes) and place skin up on the baking sheet. Add two small fennel bulbs cut into wedges or chunks, a halved onion, and 2-3 garlic cloves wrapped in foil. Brush the vegetables with olive oil, season with salt and pepper (I use sea salt and mixed white and green pepper for this recipe) and roast for 50 minutes. While this is baking, make stock with the fennel greens and onion skins. (You can also used canned stock—vegetable or chicken, but making your own stock both improves the flavor of the soup, and reduces your carbon footprint.)

Once roasted, place the vegetables in a large saucepan with 2-3 cups of stock and simmer until the fennel is very soft. Remove the tomato skins and puree. I use a hand held immersible blender, or you can put it in a blender or food processor. Once it’s pureed, run it through a food mill to smooth it and reduce bulk.

Add half and half or cream and serve with grilled cheese on a cold rainy day.

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