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Summer bounty: Tomato fennel soup

Sauté and simmer tomatoes from the garden, or the market, until they burst to make this tangy soup. 

By Blue Kitchen / August 31, 2012

Quick, easy, and rustic, this soup makes good use of seasonal tomatoes from the garden.

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Every summer, it’s the same thing with our tomato plants. Nothing, nothing, nothing and then wham – tomatoes by the boatload. This summer, the timing coincided with having a leftover fennel bulb from last week’s caramelized fennel cooking adventures that wasn’t getting any younger.

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Blue Kitchen

Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.

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Tomato Fennel Soup seemed like the obvious answer – except just about every version we found involved canned tomatoes; and most of them involved puréeing. I wanted something quick and easy, something a little on the rustic side. And I wanted to see the ingredients I was eating. So I improvised.

Not that I’m totally against puréed soups. More than a few have been featured on these pages, from Julia’s Potage Parmentier to Marion’s Cold Cucumber Avocado Soup with Radish Garnish and Strawberry Gazpacho and two different vichyssoises, one with watercress, the other with green garlic. But as I said, I wanted to see what I was eating this time.

And this was how the soup I saw in my head would come together: I would sauté the fennel bulb, an onion, some cherry tomatoes and garlic together, add some thyme, broth and water and a little salt and pepper, then throw in some broken spaghetti noodles. When it was done cooking and ladled out into bowls, I would top it with snipped fennel fronds.

As with many kitchen improvisations – at least mine – it sounded delicious on paper. It smelled aromatic and promising at first, as the fennel and onion cooked together. But as the soup progressed, I wasn’t sure if it was going to “be” anything, other than an acceptable lunch. As it simmered, I was already trying to think of something else to cook as a back-up post.

As it turned out, though, it was something, a delicate but flavorful soup, with everything in balance. During the sautéing and simmering, the tomatoes burst, releasing their juices into the broth and giving it a tomatoey tang without taking over. The tomatoes themselves were wonderful summery bites. The fennel bulb had a nice cooked celery crunch, and the fronds added a hint of anise. Even the broken spaghetti contributed, its starch slightly thickening the broth.

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