fennel and leek soup with mushrooms
We had lunch with my grandparents this weekend. My grandfather, who turns ninety-two next month and my grandmother who recently celebrated her ninetieth birthday, live in the same home they’ve owned for more than thirty years. Still very independent, my grandfather enjoys entertaining and wants to participate when I offer to bring lunch or dinner to his house. “What can I do?” is his common response. His enthusiasm and hospitality are charming.
I think that one of the benefits of starting into your tenth decade, is that you shouldn’t have to do the cooking — at least not the lion’s share. So I usually make most of the meal at my house and transport it to his. Usually, we’ll heat up a baton of french bread (he always has baguettes in the house — as my grandparents are of French heritage) and pour a little glass of his table wine to go with my preparations. In this way, everyone has contributed to the gathering.
Over the course of the past few years, I’ve discovered that my grandmother’s tastes have changed and she prefers softer foods and smooth soups. Don’t give her a chunky ham and vegetable soup because she’s just not interested. And hey, she’s ninety years old — if she wanted Lucky Charms for lunch, I’d give them to her.
This weekend, I brought a quiche and soup for lunch. I bought the quiche and made the soup. I was looking for something that would feel rich and luxurious, but wouldn’t have extra cream added. (Scott and I are still trying to take off the holiday pounds). I was inspired by a recipe I found by Rick Rodgers and modified it for my grandmother’s tastes. This bisque-like blend fit the bill. Scott was skeptical when I told him there was no butter or cream in the dish because it tastes like there is. Nope — enjoy! Guilt free!
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 pound crimini mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
- 6 leeks, white and pale green parts only
- 2 fennel bulbs, chopped into a large dice.
- 1 small bunch thyme, tied with kitchen string
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 5-6 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
- sour cream, plain yogurt, or sour cream alternative
- chopped chives
- fresh thyme leaves
- toasted croutons
- In a large dutch oven heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add thyme and mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms brown and give off most of their liquid. Remove from heat. Transfer mushrooms to a small mesh strainer, set over a bowl and set aside. Reserve thyme.
- Fill a large bowl with water. Slice the leeks lengthwise, then chop them cross wise into half inch pieces. Transfer the leeks to the bowl of water. Using your hands, agitate the vegetables in the water to dislodge any trapped grit and dirt. With your hands, working in batches, scoop the leeks to a salad spinner and spin dry.
- Add 2 more tablespoons olive oil to the dutch oven and heat over medium heat. Add leeks, fennel, reserved thyme and salt stir to combine. Cover and simmer for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and translucent. Add vegetable broth, bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove thyme bunch (most of the leaves should have come off during this simmer and you're really just removing the stems).
- Working in batches transfer leek mixture to blender and puree until smooth.
- Warm soup over medium heat.
- Before adding mushrooms, make sure they have drained all their liquid -- you may have to use some paper towel too pat them dry. (This is so the mushroom juice doesn't discolor the soup). Add half of the mushrooms to the soup and stir to combine.
- Ladle soup into bowls, garnish with reserved mushrooms. Also try some of the optional garnishes for presentation and flavor.
- When pureeing hot liquid, only fill the container about half full. Put the lid on the container tightly, then cover with a dish towel to prevent splatters and/or burns.