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).
Are you a big fan of those bags of Nacho Grated Cheese mixes? Does your parmesan cheese come from a can?
Does the very idea of grating your own cheese make you do this?
If the answer to any of those above questions is yes, then there's something you should know: you're eating wood. Or at least, something that used to be wood.
In the USA and Canada, products like cellulose and microcrystalline cellulose are government-approved food additves used as anti-caking agents, fillers, texturizers, bulking agents, AND fat substitutes (this might make you think twice about the low-fat options too). Cellulose is found quite naturally in all plant matter... however for commercial purposes, it's often commonly made from refined wood pulp or sawdust.
Now, this isn't exactly news, as there was a great cheese scandal some four years ago when the FDA opened a can of Cheez-Whiz on Castle Cheese down south for fraudulant adulteration of Parmesan (that's so much fun to say). But the reason that they got in doo-doo with the FDA wasn't that they used wood in the food at all; it was that the label promised goods that were 100% pure.
Government-mandated acceptable levels of cellulose vary, from up to 4% in the US to up to 2% in Canada, but apparently down south they still got some (okay, lots) of problems with labels: according to Bloomberg Business, independently-tested cheeses from Wal Mart and Jewell-Osco contained 7.8 and 8.8% cellulose - something you might definitely want to keep in mind if you're cross-border grocery shopping. Indeed, some tested samples of "grated Parmesan" contained no actual Parmesan at all, and instead were blends of other cheeses.
While there's been nothing in the news about the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) cracking down on mislabeled Parmesan here, the fact remains that, hey, if you're eating grated cheese, you're still eating wood products. And it's up to you to decide if eating any amount of former wood pulp is okay with you, whether the company follows the government-allowable guidelines or not.
If you made this face here?
You'd better stick to the brick and grate your own.