When autumn comes, I love to make soup. That feeling traces back all the way to my childhood in Austria, when my mother would use vegetables from our garden to cook big pots of soup that filled our home with warmth and delicious aromas.
One of my favorite autumn soups features fennel bulbs. Most people think of fennel, in a seasonal peak right now, as something to serve raw, thinly shaved in salads; or sauteed or braised, which tenderizes its crispy texture and caramelizes its natural sweetness. But if you dice the fennel and simmer it in broth, a step that takes under half an hour, you can also puree it to a smooth, satisfying consistency. Simmer some chopped shallots, garlic, and fresh thyme along with the fennel for well-rounded flavors that perfectly complement the gentle anise notes of the fennel.
Because the soup itself is a muted ivory hue, I want to spark up each bowl with something brightly colored and vividly flavored. So I prepare a simple condiment by pureeing parsley in good extra-virgin olive oil. Drizzled over each bowlful at serving time, this easy condiment enlivens the presentation. And you won't believe the wonderful perfume that blossoms from each bowl when the parsley oil is stirred into the soup.
For a textural contrast, I like to rely on that old standby, croutons. I start with a rustic loaf with robust flavor and texture. Tossed with some olive oil, cubes of the bread toast up quickly in a hot oven. As a final touch, I toss the still-warm croutons with some chopped parsley and fennel fronds reserved from trimming the bulbs -- not only a source of extra flavor but also a good expression of the waste-not-want-not kitchen philosophy I learned from my mother. Scatter a handful of croutons over each bowl at serving time and guests can enjoy their crunchy texture and aromatic flavor with every spoonful
And speaking of kitchen economy, this already-easy soup also stores well for a future meal. The recipe yields eight servings. So, if there are only two or four of you, simply refrigerate the soup in a covered container, ready to reheat gently on the stovetop. (You may want to stir in a little more broth if the puree seems too thick.) Keep the oil, covered, in the refrigerator, too, and store the croutons in an airtight container at room temperature. The next day, you'll have great soup ready to serve in less than 15 minutes.
PUREED FENNEL SOUP WITH PARSLEY OIL AND HERBED CROUTONS
PUREED FENNEL SOUP:
5 to 5-1/2 pounds fennel bulbs, about 8 bulbs, trimmed, some fronds reserved
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped shallots
2 garlic cloves, smashed
Leaves from 5 or 6 large sprigs fresh thyme
6 cups organic chicken broth, heated
Freshly ground white pepper
Juice of 1 medium lemon