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

I'm Catherine, a small-space urban gardener in New Jersey (Zone 7a) who started gardening out of upcycled wooden wine boxes. For years, I wanted to try gardening, but didn't know where to start. I got up the nerve to give it a try - starting small with a single wooden wine box that turned an idea into reality. That reality quickly turned into my filling every sunny inch of space of my postage-stamp size lawn and turning it into a garden oasis. I grow mostly vegetables and herbs with some exception for fruits (when the squirrels and rabbits don't get to them first). I love learning from gardening communities (and lots of trial and error).

I hope one day to take all that I'm learning and apply it to a larger plot of land. To help me get there, I'm extending my learning through the University of Massachusetts, Stockbridge School of Agriculture's, Sustainable Food & Farming program. (I'm addicted to learning as much as I am to gardening.)

This blog isn't just for gardeners (although I hope it inspires some of you to try growing a plant or two). The recipes (food & cocktails) in theRecipes section of this blog contain ingredients that don't have to come from your own backyard. If you like visiting your local farmer's market(or even your grocery store) and would like to get some new recipes you can use with the fresh produce and herbs you get from your local growers, this blog will have plenty for you too.

In addition to gardening and cooking, I also love to visit and photograph my surroundings. I feel fortunate to have so many amazing places here in New York/New Jersey, where I live and work. Visits to local farms, farmer's markets, and cycling through rural farming areas help me feel connected and refreshed. share these experiences in theExploring section of the blog so that you might visit through proxy or be inspired enough to visit yourself. 

With very few exceptions, all of the photographs on this site are ones I have taken myself. (For the photographers out there, I shoot with a Canon 7D and sometimes with my Lumix  DMC-ZS15 compact camera.) 

I hope this blog inspires you to grow, create, explore, and try something new. The best way to stay up-to-date is to follow me using the social buttons above, or click Subscribe and sign up for my email newsletters.    

Happy Gardening and Healthful Living!

- Catherine