I love our CSA, of which we’ve been members for five years now. Each Thursday we get a bag or two of local, organic vegetables; we also get first crack at ordering organic berries, apples, eggs, honey and maple syrup. The CSA has thrown some unusual veggies in my path like a gauntlet, daring me to cook something delicious with them. We’ve found some new favorites (mizuna, rainbow chard, lacinato kale, Japanese eggplant), but there’s also a fair amount of headscratchers (pea shoots, pok choi, watercress) and some things that, if I’m the one picking up the vegetables that week, go right into the share bin (arugula, watercress, broccoli).
Until last year, fennel fell into the latter two categories. I’d either take it home to wither away in the crisper, or leave it to my fellow CSA members who are also fennel lovers. It’s confounding, fennel: the fronds, the bulb, the anise-y taste–and it always struck me as more of a novelty than a vegetable.
Last year, however, I stumbled upon Orangette’s recipe for Carrot-Fennel Soup. Made it, liked it, felt particularly accomplished for putting my fennel to good use.
Fast-forward to this year, about five weeks ago, when we started receiving weekly rations of carrots in our CSA share. Normally, this would be a welcome and useful vegetable, but the beginning of Carrotpalooza happened to coincide with my having won a Sam’s Club membership and $50 gift card from Lea Ann at the excellent blog Mommy’s Wish List, and having spent $3 of that windfall on a bag of organic baby carrots that can only be described as “ginormous.” So the rediscovery of carrot-fennel soup was fortuitous indeed.
This soup somehow manages to be creamy, comforting, light and refreshing all at once. None of its flavors predominate; the carrot, orange juice and fennel harmonize like a really pretty folk trio. You could tinker with the ratio to let one of them shine through in a solo, as it were, but I like it just the way it is.
Creamy Carrot and Fennel Soup
(adapted from Orangette)
Several bunches carrots, depending on the carrots’ size–approximately 1-2 pounds, chopped
1 fennel bulb, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 bay leaf
5 c. chicken or vegetable broth
juice of two oranges
2-4 oz. cream cheese, or crème fraiche if you have it on hand
salt and pepper to taste
Heat garlic in olive oil in a stock pot or large sauce pan until aromatic. Add carrots, fennel bulb, bay leaf and stock; simmer 20-40 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaf. Add the cream cheese (if using crème fraiche, wait). Use a blender or immersion blender to puree the soup, adding additional broth if it is too thick for your liking. Add the orange juice, crème fraiche if using, and salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. If desired, garnish with reserved fennel fronds; either in a sprig as I’ve done in the picture, or chopped and sprinkled over the soup. I found that, even chopped, they added a texture to the soup that was a bit off-putting, and did not add flavor. Of course, it’s up to you.
Oh, and if you need any organic baby carrots, just holler.