Asparagus & Fennel Soup

I have to agree with Ina, asparagus and fennel are great by themselves, but together they complement each other and taste even better. The addition of Pernod is a genius idea, the anise plays well with the fennel, but it’s not overpowering. After pureeing the soup, I tasted it and decided it did not need the half-and-half, it was already perfectly silky and delicious, so I did not add it. The photos don’t convey the utter deliciousness of this soup, as the sun goes down at like 5 o’clock now and the lack of sunlight is not conducive to good photos, but trust me it will be made often and with pleasure this winter.

from: Cooking For Jeffrey
serves: 6-8

2 1/2 tablespoons good olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 cups (3/4 inch diced) fennel, tops and cores removed (2 fennel bulbs)
3 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
2 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
1 pound medium-thick asparagus
1/2 cup long-grain white rice
8 cups good chicken stock, or homemade
3 large sprigs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string (I didn’t have string, so I just used a long thyme sprig to tie)
kosher salt + freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup julienned fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons Pernod liqueur
1/2 cup half-and-half (optional)
freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, for serving

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In a large (11-inch) pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat and add the fennel, leeks, and onions. Cut or break off the tough bottoms of the asparagus and discard. Cut off 8 (2 inch) tips from the asparagus and reserve. Slice the remaining stalks 1/2 inch thick crosswise and add them to the pot. Cook the vegetables for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until very tender.

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Add the rice to the vegetables, pour in the chicken stock, add the thyme, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is very tender. Off the heat, stir in the basil and Pernod. Discard the thyme bundle.

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Meanwhile, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the reserved asparagus tips, cook for 2 minutes, drain, and transfer to a bowl of ice water. Set aside.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender. (You can use a regular blender but be careful not to overfill it.) Stir in the half-and-half, taste for seasonings, and reheat over low heat.  Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with julienned basil, Parmesan cheese, and a blanched asparagus tip.

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Make Ahead: Prepare the soup completely and refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 6 months.

 

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