By Kathryn McLean
I know that a lot of people like to eat soup year-round, but at my house I find myself making soup more often in the cold winter months.
And February is definitely a cold winter month in my books. It’s only 28 days, but it often feels long to me: we aren’t looking forward to celebrating holidays as we were in December; I’m not refreshed from the winter break and New Year holiday; and the promise of spring is still well off.
February tends to be snowy and blustery and cold. But roasting vegetables and cooking soup on the stove makes the house smell good, and that’s something positive that I enjoy.
Tomato-fennel soup is a simple dish to make; the tomato part is familiar, while the fennel and sweet pepper bring new flavours to the pot. This is a thick, filling soup but it isn’t heavy; the fennel makes it interesting and worth the few minutes of chopping you’ll have ahead of you; and after the cutting, there’s next to nothing for you to do other than enjoy the soup that’s making your kitchen smell so good.
If you aren’t familiar with fennel, let me tell you about it. Fennel can be eaten raw or cooked, and it is crunchy like celery but with a licorice flavour. To prepare fennel, cut it in half from top to bottom through its tough core. Remove the core as you would from a cabbage or head of lettuce. Then cut the remaining fennel as your recipe suggests. Generally, it is sliced quite thin for use in salads, and in thicker slices or chunks if it will be cooked, as it is here.
Tomato-Fennel Soup with Sweet Pepper
This makes a full batch of soup, more than 1L / 4cups, but is easily halved.
1 fennel bulb chopped into 1-inch pieces. Trim off the darkest green ends and light fronds (the feathery tips that look like dill). Reserve the fronds for garnish, if desired.
1 red bell pepper chopped (2-inch pieces)
1 large onion chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cup tomato puree (not paste, just puréed canned tomatoes from a can or jar)
1 cup 10% cream – you can replace the cream with milk for a lighter soup, or use lactose-free milk or coconut milk if you don’t want the dairy.
2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
Toss the cut fennel, pepper and onion with 2 Tbsp olive oil to coat the vegetables, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Spread on a baking pan and roast for 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 400F.
Once all the vegetables are cooked, transfer them to a medium-sized pot, scraping any oil and brown bits from the baking sheet into the soup pot. Add all remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 10 minutes. Puree to a fairly smooth soup using an immersion blender or upright blender, working in batches if necessary.
Serve warm, with reserved fennel fronds if you wish.