Soup for supper; Entertaining: A version made with fennel is perfect to serve friends for a casual meal.


More and more during the cold-weather months, I find myself making robust soups for dinner. My husband loves these simple meals, where soup is the main course and side dishes of salad and warm bread are the only accompaniments. For me, like countless others who work full time, such meals are a blessing.

Several weeks ago for a weeknight supper, I served a thick cream of fennel soup along with a salad of mixed greens and sliced pears and a basket of warm, crusty peasant bread. The soup, which took about 45 minutes to prepare, was bursting with assertive tastes but was not heavy or overly rich. I sauteed chopped fennel, onions and potato in a little olive oil, cooked the vegetables in chicken stock until tender, and finally pureed the mixture. While the soup was simmering, I heated half and half with crushed fennel seeds, dried tarragon and lemon zest and added it to the potage after it was pureed.

I am so delighted with the delectable taste of this creation and the ease of its preparation that I've decided to use it when we invite friends to come for a casual supper after the movies. Soups like this are perfect for informal entertaining, especially during winter. They are winners on several fronts: They take little time to prepare, are satisfying enough to be the anchor of a menu, and can be prepared whenever the host has time for cooking and then reheated when needed.

Winter Fennel Soup

Serves 4

About 3 pounds fennel bulbs (enough to make 6 cups chopped)

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups chopped onions

1 potato (about 8 ounces), peeled and diced

1 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed

several grinds black pepper

2 to 3 teaspoons lemon juice

4 cups chicken stock

1 cup half and half

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed (see Note)

1 1/2 teaspoons dried tarragon

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (color portion of rind)

several sprigs fresh tarragon or flat-leaf parsley for garnish, optional

Cut off and discard stalks and lacy fronds from fennel bulbs. Halve bulbs lengthwise and cut out and discard tough inner cores. Chop fennel bulbs coarsely to make 6 cups. (Save any extra fennel to use in salad or another dish.)

Heat oil in large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add fennel, onions and potato and saute, stirring, until slightly softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, 2 teaspoons lemon juice and stock. Bring mixture to simmer. Lower heat and cook, covered, until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

While soup is cooking, combine half and half, fennel seeds, tarragon and lemon zest in medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat and bring to simmer. Lower heat and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

When soup is done, remove and puree in food processor, blender or food mill. Return soup to pan in which it was cooked and heat over low heat while whisking in half and half mixture. Taste and add more salt and remaining 1 teaspoon lemon juice if desired. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring over medium heat before serving.)

To serve, ladle soup into 4 soup bowls. Garnish each portion with fresh tarragon.

Note: To crush fennel seeds, place in mortar and crush finely with pestle or place in plastic bag and pound with meat pounder or rolling pin until finely crushed.

Pub Date: 01/24/99

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