Recipe: Tomato-fennel soup

This was adapted from both the linked recipe from the New York Times and my hazy recollection of a soup I made in England but apparently failed to post the recipe for on the blog. My reasons for making it back then can essentially be boiled down to: “I want an excuse to have a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner.” As an ardent tomato-hater in my youth, I didn’t share the sense of childhood nostalgia that many seem to have for the tomato soup/grilled cheese combination. Actually, that was the first time I’d ever made tomato soup, or tried that soup/sandwich duo. As evidenced from the fact that I’m coming back for more, I can definitely see why it’s a hit with kids and adults alike.

Unlike many tomato soup recipes, this one includes no cream or milk, and I reduced the amount of butter from the original NY Times recipe (which I suspect was supposed to play a similar role). I prefer it that way; to me, the cheese in the sandwich is enough, and I don’t really like creamy soups. If you feel the same way, but hate fennel for some unfathomable reason, I’d suggest trying The Kitchn’s Egyptian Tomato Soup. It looks lovely, and I almost made it this time around, but I had a hankering for fennel. Fortunately, soup season is only just beginning!

Tomato-Fennel Soup

Adapted from The New York Times.

Yield: 4-6 servings.

2 Tbsp unsalted butter (or olive oil)
2 medium fennel bulbs, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 large onion, halved, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt (plus more to taste)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp chile powder
3 Tbsp Pernod (optional; or sub 1-2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar)
2 28-ounce packages or cans chopped tomatoes packed in purée
1 c chicken stock
1 tsp black pepper

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add fennel, onion and salt. Toss to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low. Partly cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in garlic and chile powder; cook 1 minute. Stir in Pernod and cook until almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes. (If using balsamic vinegar, just add with the tomatoes.)

Pour in tomatoes, 1 1/2 cups water and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook gently, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Season with additional salt and the black pepper, to taste. Purée soup in batches using a blender or immersion blender until smooth.

Transfer soup back to pot over medium heat; simmer until slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes more. Scrape down sides and bottom occasionally to prevent burning.

Serving suggestion: ladled into bowls, with a grilled cheese sandwich (the original recipe suggests Brie toasts with fennel butter; I went the simpler route, with whole-grain bread, cheddar, and chicken for extra protein), optionally drizzled with a touch of balsamic vinegar and garnished with fennel fronds.

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