French Country Carrot, Fennel and Olive Soup
By Heidi Allison
Showcasing the ingenuity of French country housewives, this dish is an homage to their healthy, economical soups, which use stale, day-old bread, a variety of common pantry staples, and seasonal vegetables to create comforting soups and potages. Not only is this recipe budget-friendly, it has a rather sophisticated flavor profile, pairing roasted sweet carrots with sautéed fennel, which imparts a gentle anise-like flavor to the finished dish. Buttery-tasting Castelvetrano olives lend a chunky, almost “meaty” textural element to this vegetarian dish, and a mild, nuanced flavor that is both sweet and salty. Garnished with garlic croutons and minced fennel fronds or fresh chervil, this dish is simple fare at its best!
Day-old bread acts as a thickening agent, and transforms the thin water-and-goat milk foundational broth into something that resembles a cream-based vegetable chowder, veloute, or bisque. A clever culinary trick. But, the caveat is that you must thoroughly soften the bread first, by gently cooking it in the water/milk broth, which begins breaking it down, then allowing the bread to sit in the hot milk broth for at least 20 minutes, occasionally stirring with a fork, which melts the soft bread into the soup.
You have the option of preparing two different soups with this recipe, simply by leaving it “as-is” in its chunky state, or blending it into a thick potage with a food processor after the soup has finished cooking.
2 pounds Carrots, peeled
1 large Leek, sliced into ¼ inch slices, white part only
1 medium Fennel Bulb, with fronds, sliced into ¼ inch slices
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Fennel Seeds
1cup Castelvetrano olives, pitted
2 cloves Garlic, smashed
4 inch slice of Sourdough Bread, torn into inches pieces and lightly toasted
1 Bay Leaf
4 cups Water
1 cup Full-Fat Goats Milk (can substitute with cow milk)
Chervil or minced fennel fronds
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place carrots, leek and fennel slices in a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, toss to coat, then sprinkle with kosher flake salt. Place in oven and cook for 30 minutes, turning leeks and fennel slices several times with tongs till soft and caramelized. Remove leeks and fennel to a plate and set aside.
Sprinkle fennel seeds on baking sheet next to carrots, and place back in oven. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, or until carrots are almost done and fennel seeds are toasted and emitting a scent.
Place carrots, fennel, leeks, olives, bread, bay leaf, garlic, water and goat milk into a soup pot and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
Turn off heat, and cover with a pot lid. Allow the soup to sit for an additional 20 minutes so the bread can melt into the soup and thicken it, stirring several times with a fork. Remove bay leaf.
Either ladle the soup into warmed soup bowls and garnish with garlic croutons and chervil, or blend in a food processor and top with creme fraiche and minced fennel fronds for a potage-like texture.