Roasted Fennel & Hazelnut Soup
This month’s featured ingredient: fennel
It’s cold and very wet here in Portland. This past week we had our first snow of the season ~ large flakes drifting beautifully down from the sky and melting into the ground upon contact. There’s a scarf around my neck and a lingering chill in the air. I have a mug of warm fennel seed infused tea cupped in my hands. It’s March, and though hints of spring are evident in the bulbs sprouting from the ground and on the Camellia bush outside my window, its still winter in my book. It’s still time to cozy up to a fire and focus inward. And its still time for warming comfort food in the oven and delicious smells filling the house.
Don’t push too hard yet! Stay rooted and nourished. I am. Spring will come in due time and if we take good care now, we’ll be ready to blossom then.
Roasted Fennel & Hazelnut Soup
When buying fennel, look for bulbs that have some of their stalks and fronds in tact. The bulb should feel firm at its freshest and resist pressure from your fingers. The more of the plant that’s in tact, the better the buy. Those fronds make great stuffing and a beautiful garnish for your soup!
As you slice up the fennel bulb, feel free to munch on a crunchy raw slice or two to savor the intoxicating anise flavor. If you want to stop after step 6 in the preparation steps below, this is another great option. You’ll have some delicious braised fennel that will serve up beautifully in a wide bowl with a piece of poached salmon. Personally I snacked on the fennel at each stage in the process and loved every bite!
2 medium fennel bulbs
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 small onions, peeled, halved and sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons ghee
5 cups broth of choice (I used mushroom)
1 cup raw hazelnuts
1 cups spinach, washed
sea salt & pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Trim the fronds from the fennel and put them aside for the garnish. Core and halve the bulbs and cut into slices.
- Place the sliced fennel in a roasting pan and pour on the olive oil. Add the sliced garlic and onions, the thyme and salt. Using your hands, mix the fennel, garlic and onions in the olive oil to coat.
- Dot the top of the roasting pan with the ghee and pour on the broth. Cover the pan with foil or an empty cookie tray (if you want to avoid the foil but still seal the pan) and roast in the oven for 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, spread your raw hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and put aside.
- After the vegetables have been roasting for 1 hour, remove the foil and add your cookie sheet with the hazelnuts to the oven. Cook for another 8 to 12 minutes, watching that the hazelnuts don’t burn. Remove both the roasting pan and the cookie sheet from the oven and allow them to cool.
- Once the hazelnuts have cooled slightly, rub off their skins and set aside.
- Scoop the roasted vegetables into a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Add 2/3 of the hazelnuts to the blender and puree further. Work in batches if you need to.
- Pour half of the blended soup into a pot and, finally, add the spinach and give it one more whirl until the spinach too is blended.
- Pour this mixture into the soup pot and stir to incorporate. Heat until hot but not boiling. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
- Chop the reserved fennel fronds and the reserved 1/3 cup hazelnuts to use for garnish.
- Ladle the soup and serve!
Fennel belongs to the same family as celery, parsley, dill, caraway and carrot. All parts are edible, including the bulb, the stalk, the leaves or fronds, and the seeds.
The Greek myths state that fennel contained the kernel that passed down knowledge from gods to men. This kernel comes in the delicious flavor of licorice or anise.
The Health Benefits of Fennel:
Fennel was traditionally used to help digest food and alleviate gas, bloating and cramping.
Anethole is an aromatic compound contained in fennel ~ particularly the seed ~ that has been shown to reduce inflammation and prevent the development of cancer.
Of further interest for cancer patients, fennel contains the antioxidant quercetin. This make it beneficial for anyone following chemotherapy, radiation, or even air travel!
Fennel contains some beneficial yet mild phytoestrogens that make it useful for counteracting menopausal symptoms. For younger nursing women, these compounds will help to boost milk production. (For anyone who suffers from an estrogen-dominant imbalance, too much fennel is not advised. Stick with it in vegetable form.)
Fennel is a great source of vitamin C, potassium and fiber.
Topically, fennel infusions can be used to soak cloths for eye compresses when fighting conjunctivitis or either eye ailments.
Uses for Fennel:
One of my all-time favorite recipes is a roasted fennel and hazelnut salad with a shallot dressing from the vegan cookbookVeganomicon. It’s holiday-table beautiful and delectable. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the recipe copied on the web anywhere, so look up the book when you can!
I’m also a big fan of sliced red peppers cooked on a low temperature in the oven with olive oil and fennel seeds over several hours until the peppers are almost crispy. If you consume hearty whole-grain bread, this is the perfect accompaniment.
Raw fennel can be thinly sliced and combined with either apples or oranges and maybe even some beans for a complete meal.
Sliced fennel also pairs nicely with cucumbers, olives and a squeeze of fresh lemon; add tomatoes and even some hard cheese if you’d like!
Use fennel fronds to stuff fish or chicken for an aromatic treat.
Fennel fronds are delicious when substituted for basil in your favorite pesto recipe.
You can steep the fennel seeds like you would any herb for tea, strain and drink to soothe the muscle lining of the digestive tract and aid digestion.