Throughout these strange months of limited activity, I, like many people, have turned to the kitchen for comfort and distraction. I haven’t been cooking quite as much as I thought I would, and its been a bit of a rollercoaster of success and failure. For myself, I’ve made hamburgers, hot dogs and rich pastas, I’ve been known to have chips and dip for dinner, I’ve made complicated dishes and experimented with new healthy ideas. I’ve made the most of local products cobbled together from available sources. But for some reason, it hasn’t been entirely satisfying. I keep telling myself this is the perfect thing that will cheer me up or sustain me or make me feel normal, but I just hadn’t hit it. Then, for reasons I do not entirely understand, it came to me that what I was really craving was a French-style jambon beurre sandwich and a big bowl of vichyssoise. I can’t imagine what prompted this, but it was suddenly so right. I gathered my soup ingredients, ordered some fine French style ham (at absurd expense), found some salted French butter (it was in my freezer) and proceeded. And it was perfect. I sat alone on the patio on a balmy evening with a glass of rosé and my meal and a little vase of zinnias from my garden, and immediately felt like this is what I want for dinner every night forever. Now, I haven’t gone that far, but by batch three of vichyssoise, I realized I had a bulb of fennel languishing in the fridge that could make an interesting addition. I googled some fennel vichyssoise recipe ideas, but they were, frankly, more work than I was willing to put in. So I just tweaked my classic recipe to add the bracing tang of fennel.
I love fennel and use it wherever I can, so this has proved a perfect addition to my repertoire. I keep some ground fennel pollen in my spice cabinet and find it a lovely little sprinkle on top of the soup, but it is optional. If you want a really sophisticated, velvety soup, pour the pureed base through a sieve. Cold soup is perfect for hot summer days, and I am a huge fan. Not only do I make a classic vichyssoise, but a sunny crookneck squash version, one with sweet potatoes and the very southern lady pea and buttermilk. And don’t forget a lovely, creamy white gazpacho or the tomato-y Salmarejo.
1 (about 8-ounce) fennel bulb
1 medium sized leek, white and palest green part only
2 Tablespoons butter
8 ounces (1 large or 2 small) white potato
1 Tablespoon salt
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
Fennel frond for topping
Fennel pollen for topping (optional)
- Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium high heat, then add the fennel and stir to coat. When the fennel begins to soften and turn glassy, add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks are wilted and soft. Be careful with the heat – you don’t want to brown the vegetables. Pour in the chicken broth, then peel the potatoes, cut into chunks and add to the pot with the salt. Trust me on the salt, dense foods like these need salt during cooking. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium low, cover the pot and simmer until the vegetables are very soft and tender, 20 – 30 minutes. Cool completely.
- When the soup is cooled, transfer it to a blender and blend until smooth. You may need to do this in batches, pouring the first batch into a bowl. When all the soup is pureed, pour it into a bowl and whisk in the cream. For a really velvety soup, you can pour it through a fine sieve. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight, but the soup will keep covered for up to 3 days.
- Serve with some finely chopped fennel frond and a sprinkle of fennel pollen if you like. A pinch of flaky sea salt would not go amiss.