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Tomato & Fennel Soup

Tomato & Fennel Soup

I feel like "Harvest Time" is not only here, it's in a hurry as everything seems to ripen at once. Soon, it will slow to a snail's pace. I've already started to break down the garden for the fall/winter. {sigh}

For a while, I was getting just enough tomatoes that I could manage ways to use them and then all of the sudden, I had A LOT...too many to just throw in a salad or pair with mozzarella. I was planning on giving some to my friend and food blogger, Karen (tastyoasis.net) to do something magical with. Since I didn't have a kitchen at the time (just wrapping up the renovation now), I figured I could at least live vicariously through her recipes (which are really amazing - you should check her out). But I never seemed to have enough to pass along or some were too damaged to give, or too small...I was feeling a little self-conscious about my harvest.

And then, BLAM! I had almost 10 lbs of tomatoes to do something with. So, armed with only a side burner on an old grill and some tomatoes, I got to makin' some soup. I was ready for the challenge. After all, one of the biggest reasons I garden at all is so that I have fresh, organic ingredients to cook with. This "not having a kitchen" thing was getting old.... I needed to cook. I got the inspiration for this recipe from Food & Wine magazine, but altered the recipe to use more fresh ingredients (as the tagline says, I'm all about fresh ingredients). I made a few other alterations as well, but if it's not "fresh tomato season" and you need to use canned, they'll give you some ideas for that. 

Pernod

pernod

I've come across a lot of recipes lately that use Pernod, which is an anise-flavored liqueur (think black licorice). It pairs really well with the similar flavor found in fennel. This liqueur, also known as absinthe, has a rich and sordid past. The popularity of absinthe spread from France across Europe in the 19th century, becoming the drink of choice for artists, writers, and intellectuals. But, as is the nature of life, all good things come to an end. Absinthe became extremely popular and with its very high alcohol content,  became associated with alcoholism and degeneracy. Absinthe has had a long misunderstood history of being a hallucinogenic, but it turns out that Absinthe Trippers are just really drunk.  It not only grew out of favor, it was banned in the early 20th century through much of Europe and the U.S. It only became legal again very recently (in 2007 in the U.S.). Leave it to the city that loves to party, New Orleans, Louisiana, to name an absinthe drink, Sazerac, it's official cocktail. I made a twist on the classic - a Pear Sazerac cocktail - with some of the remaining Pernod - if you're in the mood for an interesting autumnal cocktail, check it out  here.

Now....on to the soup recipe.

Ingredients

8 lbs of fresh tomatoes, cored and peeled (see below)
1/4 cup Pernod
4 TBSP + 1/4 cup olive oil
1 TBSP granulated sugar
2 fennel bulbs, coarsely chopped, reserving the chopped fronds for garnish
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tsp chopped fresh oregano
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
4 tsp kosher salt (plus more to taste)
1 TBSP red wine vinegar
Small wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 

Directions

simmering tomatoes
Fennel
  1. Core & peel the tomatoes using the Prepping the Tomatoes instructions below. 
  2. In a large (uncovered) sauce pan on med-high heat, add 4 TBSP of olive oil.
  3. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and 2 tsp of salt to the pan. Stir frequently to break the tomatoes down into liquid. Cook for 5 minutes.

     
  4. Add the Pernod to the tomatoes and cook for another 20 minutes on low-medium heat. When done, put aside, away from the heat.
  5. In a separate heavy cast-iron sauce pan or dutch oven, heat 1/4 cup of oil.
  6. Add the fennel, garlic, shallots, oregano, 2 tsp salt, red pepper flakes. Cook on med-high for 10 minutes or until the fennel is soft. 
  7. Add the tomato mixture to the fennel mixture. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20-25 minutes.
  8. Remove from heat and use an immersion blender to thoroughly blend the soup until smooth. Alternatively, ladle the tomato/fennel mixture into a blender, in small batches at a time, moving the blended soup to another pan. Repeat until all of the soup is blended.
  9. Stir in the red wine vinegar and add salt to taste.
  10. Serve in individual bowls with fennel fronts and shavings of Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
TIP: One of my kitchen tools I use most often is the immersion blender. I mean...who really wants to ladle hot soup into a blender in multiple batches? Instead, all the ingredients stay safely in the pot while I blend it all together. IT'S LIFE-ALTERING. I use it for all kinds of soups and sauces and I can't live without it now. 
tomato fennel soup

Prepping the Tomatoes

When fresh tomatoes are used in cooking, it's always a good idea to core and peel them before cooking with them. Have a large pot of boiling water and a bowl filled with ice water at the ready. Basic prep is to core, score, blanch and peel.

Step 1: Core the tomatoes

With a knife, cut out the core from the top of the tomato. This part is hard and rough and should be discarded.

Step 2: Score the bottom with an "X"

Make a shallow slice in the shape of an X in the bottom of each tomato. This will help the skin loosen from the tomato when it is submerged in hot water.

Step 3: Blanch the tomatoes

Add the cored and scored tomatoes to boiling water for about 1 minute, or until the skin starts to loosen from the tomato. Add 4-5 tomatoes at a time in the pot and remove each with a slotted spoon into a cold ice water bath. Repeat as often as needed.

Step 4: Peel the tomatoes

Once the tomatoes have cooled in the ice bath for a minute or so, remove each one at a time and gently peel the skin off of the tomato. It should come off easily. Discard the skins and reserve the tomatoes for use in the recipe.

Core at the top

Core at the top

Cut an "X" in the bottom

Cut an "X" in the bottom

Pear Sazerac

Pear Sazerac

How to Store Potatoes

How to Store Potatoes