Winter into spring
What do you cook when the calendar tells you that spring is coming soon, while every weather report or look out your window reminds you that winter is still here?

Cooking with the best seasonal ingredients is always a pleasure. But staying true to the seasons when they are changing can bring some interesting challenges. Right about now, for example, we start desiring the fresh tastes of springtime. Yet, refreshing salads and light sautes of young vegetables somehow aren't appealing while cold winds are still blowing.

So, it's time to start getting a little more creative, looking ahead to the season of renewal while remaining true to the natural winter urge to keep warm and cozy. The trick comes in beginning to make use of spring-like flavors, but in preparations that provide all the comforts we still look for in late February.

As an example, please allow me to share with you my recipe for Puree of Fennel Soup with Parsley Oil and Herbed Croutons.

Thick, velvety, hot pureed soups are a popular way to start a meal in winter. Every spoonful brings warm, soothing comfort.

Yet the featured ingredient of this particular soup feels especially suited to springtime, even though its natural season stretches from autumn to the first month or so of spring and you can also find it in supermarkets year-round. The bulb's light anise flavor, crispy texture, pale color, and delicate dark-green fronds simply strike me as refreshing, a perfect expression of the coming season. It's not surprising that raw fennel, thinly sliced, makes such a good addition to salads, and that you can also slice it, rub with olive oil, and season it for the grill come summer.

Colder days, however, are a perfect time to cook fennel. When slowly simmered in broth, the bulb turns tender for pureeing, and it has a consistency that lends a soup perfect body without need for adding any thickeners such as potato or enrichments such as butter or cream. Which means that this recipe, while seeming hearty, is also surprisingly light on the palate, just when you're beginning to yearn for something more delicate. A drizzle of parsley-flavored olive oil and some crunchy herbed croutons add still more touches of springtime color and flavor.

Not only does this recipe bridge the seasons, but it's also very convenient to prepare. You can make the puree itself up to a day in advance and refrigerate it, ready to reheat at serving time. Prepare the parsley oil ahead, too, and toast the croutons beforehand, storing them airtight until you're ready to toss them with the herb mixture.

Now that's the kind of convenience home cooks will welcome at any time of year!


Serves 8


4 thick slices country-style bread, crusts trimmed and discarded, cut into 1-inch cubes, about 2 cups total cubes

3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped fennel fronds, reserved from fennel bulb (see below)

1/2 cup finely chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves


5 to 5-1/2 pounds fennel bulbs (about 8 bulbs), trimmed, some leafy fronds reserved (see above)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil