Just a couple of fennel bulbs, a few potatoes and some dairy can turn into a highly flavorful, creamy yet distinctive Roasted Fennel and Potato Soup.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is an ancient aromatic root vegetable related to the carrot and native to the Mediterranean region. The name in Greek is marathon, with both the battle and the city of Marathon translating literally into the “field of fennel.” It has since spread and is cultivated worldwide, considered an invasive species in some places.
In practical appearance, fennel resembles a crisp white bulb onion with tall, firm stalks full of fronds. But what makes fennel distinct is anethole, a strong aromatic compound shared with star anise that gives it an unmistakable licorice scent and flavor. Personal preferences and tolerances vary, with many either loving or hating its essence.
As with any vegetable, roasting fennel under high, dry heat will caramelize the natural sugars and mellow the rougher, harsher flavors. In fact, the intensity of this soup can be controlled by the quantity of fennel used: only one bulb for a creamy, milder, potato-forward soup or three (or more) bulbs for a hotter, more intense experience.
Like vichyssoise, this soup can be served warm or chilled but the volatile flavor and aromatic elements may benefit more from the warmer temperatures. Serve with a drop of quality olive oil and plenty of crusty bread for sopping.
Note: The fronds are as edible and flavorful as any other fresh herb, so save them for an attractive garnish or other recipes.
Roasted Fennel and Potato Soup
2 bulbs fennel
1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes
½ yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
4 c chicken stock
½ c half-and-half
2 T butter
½ t tarragon
1 Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2 Roughly chop the potatoes, onion and fennel (remove the fronds), and crush the garlic cloves. Spread on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Roast uncovered for 30 min.
3 Add the roasted vegetables to a pot with butter, tarragon and seasonings, and sauté until just beginning to color. Stir in stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, about 10 min.
4 Purée in batches until smooth. Return to the pot and stir in the dairy off-heat. Finish with sea salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.