Do not fear fennel for, as I’ve recently discovered, it’s nice and not scary, despite looking like one of the evolutionary stages of a Pokémon. The strong aniseed smell you get when it’s raw seems to disappear after cooking.
This recipe is so simple that even if you’ve never made soup before, you can quickly turn out something impressive, cheap and easy to freeze. If you’re a confident/competent cook, ignore all my suggestions: I’m very much thinking of all the student cooking disaster stories I’ve heard, as I write this, hence the higher than usual level of detail. I’m not trying to patronise, just educate as I did with my daughter. It doesn’t seem to be the norm, though.
One of my sisters survived University by living off tinned tomato soup with cooked pasta stirred in. I don’t think she even added cheese. You could add pasta to this soup if you needed something cheap but filling. Always add cheese if you can – just grate, stir or crumble some into the bowl or mug after you’ve served it. See below for budget options/alternatives to some of the ingredients.
Makes 4 large mugs (about 320 ml each) or 6 smaller portions, suitable for starters or lighter meals.
What you need:
- Enough fresh tomatoes, cut in half or quarters if large, to cover the bottom of a glass or similar roasting dish. I had about 1 kg in total.
- One fresh fennel bulb, sliced lengthways and placed in the bottom of the ovenproof dish.
- One roughly chopped red onion. (I just peeled and quartered it as it gets blended later.)
- Peeled and sliced garlic cloves (optional).
- Enough chicken stock to get the consistency of soup you require. Prepare 500 ml at a time in a jug with boiling water.
- Double cream, 2 – 4 tbsp (see my method for alternatives if you don’t have any).
- Stick blender or other machine for pureeing the soup. If you don’t have that, you can push the soft veg through a sieve with the back of a wooden or plastic spoon, into a saucepan and then add some stock, although your soup will be thinner so you’ll get a bit less.
1. Prepare the fennel by slicing it lengthways and layering on the bottom of your ovenproof dish. Add the red onion. Then add the tomatoes in a layer on top of that. You can add garlic if you want.
2. Drizzle with lots of olive oil and lots of sea salt, in that order. Put into a preheated oven at Gas 3 – 4 / 160C – 180C and roast until cooked through and soft, trying not to stir during cooking and reducing temperature as needed to prevent over-cooking.
3. Transfer roasted veg to a bowl or saucepan in which you can use a stick blender. Puree the veg, adding water or stock if needed. Add some double cream to serve.
Method (Mine, with notes.)
1. Prepare the fennel like this. I only used half a bulb so stored it as per the instructions on that link. Slice the fennel lengthways and layer on the bottom of your ovenproof dish. Add the red onion. Then add the tomatoes in a layer on top of that. I used a mixture of everything from large Striped Americans to cherry tomatoes. You can add garlic if you want, which I did: 3 small cloves, sliced thinly. All this is much easier with a sharp knife – tomato skin is surprisingly resilient.
2. As per original method; except I went easier on the salt than the recipe said, knowing that the stock jelly contains salt too, using a couple of small pinches, crumbling the salt between my fingers and sprinkling it on the tomatoes. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to cook, depending on how high you went with the oven and the quantity of veg you’re roasting. Keep an eye on it – you don’t want loads of blackened edges or you’ll end up with burnt bits in your soup when you puree it. You’ll get a lot of tomato juice in the dish as it cooks but that’s fine for this.
3. Allow the roasted vegetables to cool a bit before you transfer them to another container to puree them, lest you be splashed with hot oil and tomato juice. You can let them go completely cold and freeze the veg, juices and olive oil in freezer bags or boxes at this stage. (Provided the bag is leak-proof, you can spread the mixture out fairly flat, which will take up less room in a freezer.) To continue making the soup another time, just allow it to defrost fully and then carry on with the original recipe. I think it tastes better if you allow the flavours to develop at least overnight before continuing. Tip: if you don’t have any leak-proof freezer bags or containers, freeze the veg in tied bags, sitting inside other freezer-safe containers until they go solid, then you can remove them and tuck them into corners without risking spills. I added 500 ml of chicken stock made from a stock jelly adding a bit at a time to avoid kitchen-splatter incidents as I blended it. I ended up using 4 tbsp of double cream, which I stirred in to the blended soup. If you don’t have double cream you can use milk, crème fraîche, soured cream, plain yogurt or something like Elmlea.
4. I decided that there was more noticeable tomato skin in the finished soup than I would have liked (which might have been down to the thicker skin on the Striped American tomatoes I used) so I did something I never usually do and put it through a sieve. Just put your sieve over a suitably deep container and ladle in the soup a bit at a time, stirring gently with a plastic or wooden spoon so the liquid drips through quickly. Periodically, spoon the reserved veg into a bowl and set aside. In the end, you will be left with a beautifully-smooth tomato soup which tastes less acidic than the popular tinned versions, I think. Tip: To clean easily, use a spatula to clean the worst of the gunk off the mesh, then rinse the sieve, upside down, so that the water blasts any little bits out before you wash it properly and rinse them away so you don’t clog the sink. If you leave this for another time the veg will set in a virtually impermeable layer and you might as well bin it, which is not good. If you’re absolutely going to have to leave the cleaning up until later, submerge the sieve in water but don’t leave it there for more than a few hours.
5. Don’t bin the veg that you have sitting to one side. I made mine into a rather tasty sauce for a bolognese-type meal, the recipe for which can be found here.