Ben and I have recently been toying with the idea of scrounging up an enormous, cast-iron kettle that can hang over a fire (think pioneer-era Americana). We’ve somehow latched onto this notion of a vessel in which we could simmer and ladle out a bottomless supply of good soup for a crowd of friends. The autumn air, especially, has us dreaming of a “BYOB” lunch or dinner—“bring your own bowl.” Is it weird to admit that you and your significant other want to buy primitive cooking paraphernalia for your next dinner party? The more I think about it, though, the more it seems to appropriately embody the reason soups are so great. There are few dishes that come together as gracefully, with such simple ingredients and easy effort, as soups. Soups and stews exemplify my favorite kind of cooking: deeply sensory, as minimal or dressed up as you like, and most importantly, easy to share (en masse, if necessary). Moreover, everyone equates soup with comfort. I like that. One of my resolutions this year was that I’d start making more foods to freeze. I am not the kind of girl who has trouble finding the energy or making the time to cook for herself, but cooking-for-later is a bit addicting. It may seem like work with no gratification when you make something to put away, untouched—-until the day when you reap the benefits. The first forkful of whatever you made for yourself ahead of time is a little pat on the back. It’s kind of like magic! Good job, self, you think, grateful to the past-you for having the foresight to store away. In that vein, I’ve been planning to take a few days to make a lot of soups to keep through the winter. So, for a change of pace, I thought I’d chronicle a few of the big pots of soup I’m making over the next week or so—probably five or six, culled from a list I’ve collected. I usually have a bowl or two the day that I make them and then freeze the rest for later. Since they’ll be a bit more frequent, I think the “week of soups” posts will be more abbreviated than usual (and I also cannot promise that they will actually be posted within one calendar week).
I have a great used book on my cookbook shelf called Ladle, Leaf, & Loaf, by Lisa Cowden. My collection of secondhand bookstore cookbooks is more dear to me for a lot of ways than shiny new ones, but in general, I think it helps me think a bit more creatively. We cooked a lot differently in the ’70s or ’90s than we do now. Cowden’s book is focused on “soup, salad, and bread for every season”, and has been a source of inspiration in the past. This fennel soup is no exception. For those that might not like fennel, I’d urge you to try it this way. Long-sauteed with onions and other aromatics, that sharp anise note smooths out into something deep and sweet, lending an umami quality that I can only describe as being akin to stirring parmesan shavings into the finished product. You can purée in a blender or food processor if you’d like, but I just run my soup through a potato ricer or mash it up with a wooden spoon, preferring a rustic potage-like texture to a uniformly creamy soup.
On freezing soups:
I have a weird, twitchy aversion to many plastics. I think fossil fuel-derived chemicals are miraculous things, and they are used to make all sorts of valuable products. But I don’t like them when they’re in cheap, disposable form, and I don’t like them in my kitchen—I’ll stick to wood and glass and metal, thank you very much. After experimenting with a lot of ways to freeze stocks and soups, though, I now make an exception for big gallon freezer bags. I’ve tried freezing in big quart jars, but I have about a 50% success rate with the jars not cracking from the expanding water content of the soup. From what I can gather, most harmful chemicals in plastics leach when they are exposed to quick changes in temperature, so let your soup cool completely in the pot, then pour into the gallon bags and seal (smoothing out any air pockets), and freeze flat on its side.
Fennel soup with julienned carrots
Adapted from Ladle, Leaf, & Loaf by Lisa Cowden
Serves about two people, with enough left over to freeze (in total, probably about 8-10 servings)
You will need
- 3 tablespoons butter
3 medium yellow onions, chopped (3-4 cups)
4 fennel bulbs, trimmed and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
6-8 cups vegetable broth
3-4 small potatoes, skins removed and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons cream or milk (optional)
3-4 carrots, julienned (I use a mandoline to slice them on an extreme angle, then a chef’s knife to slice into thin sticks)
Plain greek yogurt (optional)
- In your largest pot, heat the butter on medium-high. Add onions and fennel and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the fennel begins to soften and onions are translucent. Deglaze with the white wine vinegar, scraping at any bits that may have stuck to the bottom of the pot and letting the vinegar down.
Add broth until the vegetables are just covered, potatoes, and salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a rapid simmer and cook until potatoes, fennel, and onions are very tender, stirring occasionally. If the liquid reduces too much, add more broth.
Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Carefully puree the soup in batches in a food processor or blender, holding a towel over the lid of the appliance. Alternatively, mash up the mixture with a potato masher, ricer, or food mill. Return the mixture to the pot and, if desired, stir in cream or milk. Taste for seasoning and heat through before serving.
Garnish with julienned carrots and/or a dollop of plain greek yogurt.