If you didn't get the memo from my cheeseburger soup recipe, I love a good soup. In Hamilton, every February, when people have got the blahs, Living Rock throws SoupFest, and it's a huge event with lots of participating restaurants making exotic and classic soups for charity. SoupFest is awesome because you get to try really amazing combinations and open up your palate a little.
Case in point: tomato and fennel soup. I had been at odds with that strong licorice flavour of fennel pretty much my entire life until SoupFest 2012, when one restaurant brought in a roasted version. Holy crap, it was good, and the roasting turned that strong licorice flavour into a muted, smoky deliciousness. Needless to say, I have been experimenting ever since.
This tomato soup is great for a lot of reasons; it's gluten free, easily vegan or vegetarian, and it has those words parents often love to hear: chock full of hidden veggies. The base soup is not overwhelmingly powerfully flavoured for the little ones, so FEEL FREE TO PLAY to suit your family's individual tastes and dietary needs. Add the heat with a little cayenne or lots of cracked black pepper, or leave it mostly as is for young ones. Myself, one of my favourite variations plays up that smoky flavour with a touch of liquid hickory smoke and a sharp cheese.
And occasionally, I'll throw in some maple and hickory smoked bacon when I'm feeling naughty.
1/2 sweet yellow onion (quartered)
2 large carrots
2 stalks celery
1 fennel bulb (small, about 1 lb, quartered and cored)
1 clove garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh cracked pepper and coarse salt
6 or 7 fresh roma tomatoes (cored and halved)
1 28oz can San Marzano tomatoes
3-4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Liquid hickory smoke (optional)
Heat oven to 425F and find two medium-large oven-proof and scrubbable pans.
While oven is preheating, wash and halve the Roma tomatoes, and wash and cut up the other vegetables into large pieces.
Toss the vegetables with a little olive oil and some coarse salt; put them in one roasting pan. In the other, drizzle a good layer of olive oil, make sure the fresh tomatoes are coated and leave face up. Sprinkle the tomatoes with some thyme, salt and pepper, and insert both roasting pans into the oven.
Let the vegetables and tomatoes roast for 1 - 1.5 hours, stirring/flipping once, until they begin to brown and the tomatoes develop a lovely caramelized look. Remove and let cool down.
If you have an immersion blender, great! Throw all your roasted vegetables, roasted tomatoes, canned tomatoes, and 2-3 cups of stock in one large soup pot and blend till smooth, adding more stock or water if necessary, to achieve the texture you like. If you are like me and don't have an immersion blender, then puree the roasted vegetables/tomatoes, canned tomatoes, and enough stock to run the blender in batches until smooth, transferring it to a soup pot.
Heat the soup up on medium until simmering, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, baking soda, smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp dried thyme, and - if you want to walk on the wild side - 2-3 drops of liquid smoke. Liquid smoke is powerful stuff, so taste as you go.
Serve hot, sprinkled with herbs (vegan option), your favourite exotic cheese (Asiago is always a good bet) or a couple grilled-cheese dipper sticks (my favourite).
RELATED: Hearty Potato Cheeseburger Soup (wars have been fought over less).