Tomato Fennel Soup with Gruyère Dippers

With the holidays right around the corner, my daughter’s birthday on Wednesday and my mother-in-law coming to stay for the weekend, a four-letter word comes to mind. Soup.

Quick, nutritious and versatile, soup is a one-pot solution for holiday entertaining and family-feeding stress. With a big pot of soup in the fridge, and/or some containers in the freezer, you’re set for just about anything.  Like the perfect LBD, soup can be dressed up or down to suit any occasion; serve it in big mugs with grilled cheese sandwiches for a casual lunch, or serve it in fine china teacups as an elegant and not-too-filling appetizer for a holiday meal.  My mother-in-law will be very impressed to be served a soup course, as if we were on the Queen Mary (or Titanic); she doesn’t need to know I just pulled it out of the freezer.

Fresh fennel may not be a regular staple in your produce bin, but this soup is a good reason to go out and buy a couple of bulbs. (Look for ones that are firm, with fresh leafy tops.) By pureeing the fennel, onions and tomatoes, you end up with a beautiful, “sippable” soup with good body and a delicate flavor – but looks like regular tomato soup. The fennel can be your little secret.

Tomato Fennel Soup

Adapted from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

  • 2 fennel (aka fresh anise) bulbs
  • 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ c butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cans (35 oz. each) Italian plum tomatoes
  • ½ cup Pernod* (or other anise liqueur, like sambuca or absenthe)
  • 2 cups (16 oz or ½ a box) chicken stock
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • Freshly grated black pepper
  • ¼ cup (+/- to taste) heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2-3 teaspoons kosher salt

Cut the tops from the fennel bulbs and reserve some of the leafy tops for garnish.

In large pot or Dutch oven over med-low heat, add the chopped fennel, onions and butter and cook until the vegetables are limp. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.  Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. 

Add the tomatoes with their liquid and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes. (Now would be a good time to prep the gruyère dippers/croutons.)

Add the Pernod, chicken stock, bouillon cube and a few grinds of black pepper. Using an immersion (stick) blender, pulse/puree the soup right in the pot until smooth. (Alternatively, do this in batches in a blender once it’s cooled a little.) Stir in cream and sugar.  (This helps balance the acidity of the tomatoes.) *Note: The anise liqueur really helps highlight the flavor of the fennel, and it also adds sweetness. If you choose to omit it, you should add another teaspoon of sugar.)

Now is time for the most important step: Tasting and adding salt. Add kosher salt – tasting and adding ½ tsp at a time, up to 2+ teaspoons until it tastes good to you. [Salt is the SECRET to great-tasting soup.  If you’ve ever made a soup that just didn’t taste like much, it needed more salt.]

Serve with chopped fennel fronds for garnish, if desired. Keeps for several days in the refrigerator, or for months in the freezer.

8-12 servings, depending on portion size.

Gruyère Dippers

  • 1 baguette, sliced on the angle and then cut in halves
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Approx. 8 oz. freshly grated Gruyère cheese

If you can plan a day ahead, slice the baguette and leave out overnight to dry out. This will save a step.

Otherwise, arrange in one layer on a baking sheet and toast in a 350ºF oven until dry/crisp.  Drizzle olive oil over toasted slices, tossing w/hands to coat. (Will not be evenly covered; it’s OK.)

Sprinkle grated cheese over slices and bake at 350ºF for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet.

Break apart when cooled. (Eat the crispy cheese bits that stick to the baking sheet.) Store in an airtight container, in pantry or freezer.