Creamy fennel soup with hazelnut smoked calcot powder
I first made this soup as a test for the fund-raising dinner I cook for my daughter's school each year. My wife, Joy, chooses a theme for the dinner. Last year the dinner fell on the weekend of Greek Easter, so I prepared a whole roasted lamb. This year, we're doing surf and turf, which is open to all sorts of interpretation. (Those of us who remember 'surf and turf' as an actual menu item willingly disclose our age.) My interpretation of this year's theme is a nod to continental cuisine and the 1980s: I'm preparing filet mignon with Dungeness crab and béarnaise sauce.
Back to the soup. I made it ahead to determine whether is should be served hot, or might work as a chilled soup. Given our cool early spring temperatures and the seemingly relentless rain in the Pacific Northwest, I decided the soup should be warm, though it would be equally enjoyable cold, on a warm evening.
The smoked onion powder that flavors this soup is an addition inspired by Groundwork Organics new spring inventory of condiments. My friends there suffered a barn fire earlier this year and consequently lost the entire supply of dry condiments they manufacture on the farm: dry chile pepper blends, prepared fresh horseradish, fruit preserves and blended salts. Since then, I have found my pantry sadly lacking in the wide variety of items I purchase from them.
I'm happy to report that Groundworks is back up and running with a number of new items for spring, like the smoked Calcot powder I've used in this soup. Calcots are a variety of green onions indigenous to the Catalonia region of Spain. They appear in spring and can be used wherever an onion is called for. The smoky flavor of the powder comes from hazelnut wood. Calcot powder isn't a requirement for this fennel soup; any onion powder will enhance the combination of fennel, spring onions, potato, coriander and fennel seeds, finished with a touch of cream.
Makes one quart of soup, or 4 to 6 servings
1 small bunch spring onions, green and white portion roughly chopped or 1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 medium fennel bulbs fennel, trimmed, cored and roughly chopped (reserve the fronds for garnish)
3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 quart vegetable or chicken stock
1 medium size russet potato, peeled and cut into roughly 1-inch cubes
½ cup heavy cream, sour cream, creme fraiche or plain whole milk yogurt (optional)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon smoked (or unsmoked) onion powder, plus additional for garnish
Place the onions, fennel, celery, and coriander and fennel seeds in a saucepan with a heavy bottom and tight-fitting lid. Add about 1 cup of stock and a pinch of salt, cover the pot and bring the ingredients to a simmer over medium heat.
Remove the lid, stir the ingredients and continue to simmer for 15 minutes, adding more stock or water as needed to avoid browning the vegetables. Once the vegetables have softened and given up their moisture and flavor, add the remaining stock and potatoes. Return the mixture to a simmer, cook 10 minutes and remove the pot from the heat.
After the vegetables have cooled slightly, add the cream to the pot along with the lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of the onion powder. Use an immersion blender or countertop blender to puree the ingredients until smooth. For a velvety smooth soup, strain through a fine mesh sieve. Cool the soup completely and refrigerate for use later, or return the soup to the pot to reheat before serving.
Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed, ladle into bowls, and garnish with fennel fronds and a dusting of onion powder. Serve immediately.