This soup is for my cousin Diane who remembers our families sitting around after holiday meals with a platter of fennel and assorted whole nuts. It’s a memory we share, but when presented to guests outside of our family, anise does not seem to be received very well. Fennel is a vegetable, also known as anise, as our family would refer to it. It has a sweet and mild licorice flavor and is known, at least to most Italians as a digestive for after dinner. Eaten raw it has a crisp and slightly sharper flavor than celery along with the mild licorice taste. When raw I do like to drizzle on a bit of lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper or present it with an olive oil/lemon juice dipping bowl.
Fennel bulbs are light green with feathery, leafy tops. Purchase bulbs that are smooth and firm with a vibrant green color. Store fresh fennel in the refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag. Do not wash fresh fennel until you are ready to use it. Then rinse it well with cold water. Fresh fennel can last for up to 8 days when properly stored and refrigerated. When cooking with fresh fennel, cut off the tough stem at the base of the bulb before slicing or chopping. Most recipes for fresh fennel use the bulb for cooking and not the feathery, leafy tops. When you cut off the tops, save them as a garnish. You can chop them up and sprinkle over soup, salads, or fish.
When cooked the flavor will become sweeter and milder. And in this soup, Diane, your guests will not detect that strong anise flavor. The fennel is roasted with sweet onions and garlic, then simmered in vegetable broth. Pureed smooth, the taste is pleasantly earthy, similar to a creamier version of onion soup. Served with a side of dried cranberries and chopped hazelnuts to sprinkle on the soup, a gourmet dish has been created with our secret ingredient! Oh, yes, I remember John does not like onions, and he too, should not be able to detect them!!
Roasted Fennel Soup with dried cranberries and chopped hazelnuts
2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into wedges
1 large garlic bulb, top cut to expose bulbs
2 large onions, cut into quarters
1 large apple, cut into half, peeled, seeds removed
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper
Roasted veggies from above
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
¼ cup chopped dried cranberries
¼ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
1 teaspoon hazelnut oil (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine fennel, onions, apple, oil, oregano and salt and pepper on large baking sheet. Mix to coat veggies evenly and layer on sheet. Place garlic bulb cut side down. Roast approximately 40 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
Peel garlic from outer skin and place all veggies into large stock pot. Add stock, bring to boil and reduce to simmer for about 35 minutes to marry all flavors.
Puree all veggies and stock in batches in a blender very carefully. Return to stock pot and add teaspoon of cider vinegar. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. (Soup can be made 1 day ahead at this point and gently rewarmed.) When ready to serve, garnish with cranberries, hazelnuts and a drizzle of oil.