Tomato Soup made from scratch. Toasted cheese. Who could ask for anything more?
Last week, here in the north, you could buy a giant box of tomatoes for no money, and the this week they are almost non-existent. There is even one farm that lets you come and glean the fields for $5 a shopping bag. We finally had a freeze last night, and even my little cherry tomatoes that were hanging on for dear life finally succumbed to the cold.
A bundle of tomatoes
Last week was the last week of the farmers market as well, so I probably bought a few more than I could easily cook and eat! The Roma tomatoes and oddball field tomatoes were abundant, and I knew I could easily stow some of these in the freezer for winter soups, and make a sauce or soup.
The beautiful bulbs of fennel
Another one of my finds was the most gorgeous fennel bulbs I’ve ever seen. So many fronds and stems, that when I cut the bulbs off, I knew I would use the abundant rest to make a flavorful stock. One fennel bulb sliced very thin was all I needed to make a lovely little side salad, paired with thinly sliced purple onion, radicchio, and chunks of dried apricot in a lemon vinaigrette.
Let’s make stock, it won’t take a minute
That left me with a second monster fennel bulb and enough tops to fill my large compost bucket. However, they were not quite ready for compost. I think it is important to think about how our grandparents and great grandparents approached food in the Depression and before and after. Every scrap saved and used. Every bit of flavor and nutrition extracted. The addition of an onion, a sorry carrot, a bay leaf, and a few odd vegetable and mushroom scraps, transformed those fennel stems and fronds into a stock so flavorful it could almost be served by itself as soup! Once you start thinking of these scraps as a treasure, a windfall, you will never pay $5 for a quart of vegetable or chicken stock again!
Whatever was left after the simmering was happily dispatched into the compost bucket.
Use what you need to use
The fennel and tomato is a lovely combination. If you don’t have fronds on your fennel to make stock, just make a vegetable stock from your refrigerator scraps and add some additional crushed fennel seeds, or, in a pinch, just use vegetable stock in this recipe. It won’t have as much fennel flavor, but it will still be delicious; it’s tomato soup after all!
Don’t toss those ugly tomatoes!
I used the oddball field tomatoes and Romas, plus the last of my own cherry tomatoes, for more flavor, but frankly most tomatoes will do well here. If you don’t have a bounty of fresh tomatoes or it is the middle of winter, just use a 28-oz can of organic diced or whole tomatoes. It will work fine.
There is always a swap! And if it is homemade with love, it will be delicious. Who doesn’t love soup on a crisp Autumn day?
Harvest Tomato and Fennel Soup
- 2 tbsp. fruity olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 fennel bulb, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. crushed fennel seeds
- ½ cup tomato paste
- ¼ cup dry red wine
- 1 quart diced tomatoes
- 1 quart *fennel or vegetable stock
- 1 tsp. sugar, optional if needed
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat a heavy stock pot over medium high and add the olive oil. Toss in the onion and fennel, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and let soften, but not brown.
Once softened, add the garlic, fennel seeds, and tomato paste and cook for a couple of minutes, until everything has bloomed. Add the wine and stir everything together for another rminute.
Add the tomatoes and stock, then season with salt and lots of pepper.
Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to a simmer, and continue simmering for a half hour. I do this in my oven at 250, but you can also simply simmer on the lowest setting, back burner.
Taste and correct the seasoning. Do you want to add the sugar? I didn’t need to this time around. More salt? Probably a bit more pepper.
Continue simmering until everything is completely cooked and soft and the flavors well married. The house should smell really good just about now.
Puree with an immersion blender, standard blender, food processor, or food mill. I use either the immersion blender or food mill, the former being less cleanup, but the latter producing the best texture. Your choice. Your time.
Garnish with a few fennel fronds, a drizzle of olive oil, maybe some croutons, and serve with grilled or toasted cheese. We love making little toasted cheese soldiers, so everyone can have as many or few as they want, and they are fun to dunk. Of course, if we make grilled cheese, everyone dunks those too.
Cream of Tomato Fennel Soup
While I prefer my tomato soup straight up, there are those in the family who like theirs with a splash of cream of some sort.
Before concerns about cholesterol, I used half-and-half or light cream to everyone’s desired whiteness. You can use non-fat half-and-half, light coconut milk, oat milk, or any preferred whitener. Just add them at the end, a little at a time and taste.
Compost or savor?
In a large stockpot, combine a big bunch of fennel stems and fronds, a cup-up onion, a large carrot, old and limp is fine, mushroom pieces and stems, a teaspoon of fennel seeds, and whatever other little scraps of vegetables you have on hand. Bring this to a boil, then simmer for a half hour. Let cool to room temperature, then strain.
Toasted Cheese Soldiers
Perfect for dunking!
Lightly toast a few slices of wholegrain bread. Slice into strips along the short side, usually four or five per slice depending on the loaf. Sprinkle with Paremesan, vegan Parmesan, cheddar, or other vegan cheese. Pop under the broiler until melted and starting to bubble and brown. Try to let them cool a few moments before attempting to eat.
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