Friday, December 5, 2008
I have some semolina and cornmeal bread on its second rise in the house right now, its primary purpose to complement the roasted fennel and carrot soup I made on Wednesday night. JR and I were both taken aback by how good the soup was - oh, and don't even get me started on the honeyed mascarpone - but JR's lone complaint was that it required some toast to round it out. Toast with sweet cream butter, in fact. So today, we will have the fennel and carrot soup masterpiece for lunch with a toasty, crunchy, buttery friend. I recommend you do the same, so here is the soup recipe to help facilitate that goal.
Roasted Fennel and Carrot Soup with Honeyed Mascarpone:
2 medium fennel (anise) bulbs, approximately 2 pounds total weight - fronds removed, bulb rinsed, and cut on the bias from top (where the fronds were) to the bottom, in pieces approximately 2-inches thick
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled, rinsed, and cut into 2-inch lengths
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, well-washed and cut into 1-inch lengths
2-3 tablespoons olive oil, or enough to coat the bottom of your medium soup pot/sauce pan
1 tablespoon dried thyme
5-6 cups vegetable broth. If you don't have any vegetable broth on hand, chicken broth is an acceptable substitute, though it will assert itself more than the vegetable broth.
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon per each serving mascarpone (an Italian cream cheese, available in Italian markets and in most supermarkets. Vermont Butter and Cheese Company makes a domestic version as well.)
1 teaspoon honey per each tablespoon mascarpone, plus more if you have a relentless sweet tooth
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Toss the fennel and carrot pieces in a large bowl with the olive oil, coating well. Spread oil-coated fennel and carrots on a large rimmed baking sheet, being sure that they are in one layer. Salt and pepper lightly.
Roast fennel and carrots until just beginning to brown, approximately 30-35 minutes, turning over mid-way through the cooking time for even browning on both sides. Remove from oven and set aside.
Heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium sauce pan or soup pot over medium heat. Add leek, and saute until leeks are softened and beginning to fall apart, approximately 2-3 minutes. Add roasted fennel and carrots, and 1 tablespoon thyme. Cook over medium heat for approximately 2 minutes to combine flavors. Add 4 cups vegetable broth, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook at the gentle simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
Now, you're quite likely hungry while you're making this, but do resist the temptation to move to the blending step immediately after removing the pot from the heat. You do need to allow it to cool so as to avoid your blender exploding all over the kitchen walls, counter, you, and your Golden Retriever (or Pug, Beagle, Rottweiler, Labradoodle, Maine Coon Cat, Cockatoo, what-have-you). In this same spirit, you must also work in small batches. I try not to put more than two to three inches of liquid into the blender at a time when working with lukewarm ingredients. For this soup, I also used room-temperature Whole Foods 365 (store) brand vegetable broth for the blending so as to also bring down the temperature and help me avoid certain disaster. For I have been there. And there is nothing that impedes cooking progress quite like a blender explosion.
So, working in small, lukewarm batches, puree the fennel, carrots, leeks, and broth, adding room-temperature broth as needed to help thin the mixture. I used approximately 1 1/2 cups of room temperature broth during the pureeing process while making my soup, but if you like it a little less thick, you are free to add more liquid. You can make that decision once you return the puree to the stove, which you are about to do.
As I pureed in batches, I transferred the soup to a glass mixing bowl with cup measures denoted on the side, and which also has a very handy pouring spout and handle. Very handy. This particular recipe will generate between 7 and 8 cups of soup, according to my handy mixing bowl/measuring cup, so 7-8 servings. Return the puree to the soup pot/sauce pan, and return to the stove (I told you so), warming to serving temperature over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add two tablespoons honey, stirring well to combine, then salt and pepper to taste - I found it very important to salt sufficiently, it highlights the flavors of the fennel and carrot, and contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the honeyed mascarpone.
And so you must make the honeyed mascarpone. A good time to do this is while the pureed soup is coming back up to a serving-appropriate heat. This also allows for the mascarpone to come up to room temperature so that it doesn't ice your lovely soup, and makes the mascarpone easier to blend with the honey, as it will soften up as it comes up to room temperature. Simply combine a tablespoon (or thereabouts) of mascarpone (or creme fraiche, which would also work if it's easier for you to locate in your grocery store) with a teaspoon (or thereabouts) of honey. Remember, you're eating this, so you have to like how it tastes, and I'm not going to be stopping by to be sure you used my exact ratios, so do what works for you.
Serve the soup hot with the dollops of honeyed mascarpone in the middle of the bowl. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve it out. Watch for even your meat-and-potatoes-loving family members to look up, a bemused smile on his or her meat-loving-I-can't-believe-you're-serving-me-another-vegetarian-meal face, and say, "wow." And then say, "if only we had some buttered toast."
If you like crystallized ginger, I would chop that up finely and toss a little over the top of the soup. It certainly wouldn't hurt. Or maybe some fennel seed if you like that sort of thing. Or carrot chips that you baked in the oven. Or just some chopped fresh parsley. You get the idea. But be sure to have toast at the ready. Whatever you do, there must be toast.
Dinner tonight: Untraditional Bolognese Sauce with Rigatoni. Estimated cost for two: $6.24. The ground meat was $3.79 per pound at Venda Ravioli, the carrot, celery, and onion for the soffrito (which is the slowly simmered base of the sauce) were about $1.00, the tomatoes were $2.00, and the amount of milk I'll use in the sauce will be about 50-cents. I'm also using anchovy paste and a bit of tomato paste, so let's call those $1.00, to be generous about it. And don't go all nose-scrunchy on me about the anchovy paste. The purpose of the anchovy paste is to add a depth of flavor to the sauce that is indistinguishable as anchovy, but instead, adds to the savory quality of the sauce. The total cost of the sauce is $8.29 for approximately 8 servings, so $1.04 per person for that. The pasta was $2.79 for the box (not Whole Foods store brand this time, but De Cecco instead, which I had purchased a while ago at Whole Foods (check out the De Cecco link if you think you want to buy by the case - it's only $1.75/box). I'm completely sold on the Whole Foods store brand bronze-die (traditional method) pastas, which are a bargain at less than half the price of my favorite imported bronze-die, air-dried pastas), and we'll use half of the box. We'll use the pre-grated parmigiano-reggiano from Venda Ravioli, which costs $12.99/pound, and we'll use about an ounce of that each, so $1.62 for that. I will put a good sized dollop of mascarpone on the very top of the mountain of rigatoni and sauce, so we'll call that $1.14 at 57-cents per ounce. Making the bolognese tonight will allow me to whip up a bechamel sauce tomorrow and fashion a lasagna out of the leftovers, which will be ultra-convenient for us early in the week when we're both a bit over scheduled, and will also be a perfect culinary answer to the snow and cold we're expecting.