Rain Chaser: Potato, Leek and Fennel Soup

soup35 degrees F on Monday, 63 degrees F and torrential rains and flooding on Saturday. What a difference a week can make!

Time for something to chase away the damp dreariness of the day, and soup always makes me happy. One of my most favorite vegetable dishes, usually made during the holidays, is a potato, leek and fennel gratin. I made it this year for Christmas dinner, was going to share it with you and then promptly forgot to take the final photo before we devoured it! I can, however, point you to the recipe here, and trust me it is well worth the effort to make.

And because those flavors were still so fresh in my memory, and I happened to have lots of potatoes on hand, I decided to make the gratin into a soup. Much like a vichyssoise, this soup starts with the potato and leeks as its base, but has a mild anise flavor, a sweetness and richness from the addition of fennel. The three vegetables marry into something quite extraordinary, and a touch of cream adds a velvety and satisfying finish to the soup. I decided the best way to incorporate the parmesan from the gratin was in the form of a crouton floating on top and sprinkled with fennel fronds. Delicious soup, warm or cold.

There’s more rain in the forecast for Monday…maybe it’s time for a Raindog, too!

Not just for a rainy day, it's great for any day of the year!

Not just for a rainy day, it’s great for any day of the year!

Potato, Leek and Fennel Soup
Makes 6-8 portions

2 leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned well and diced (about 3 1/2 cups)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and sliced thinly, reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons of the fronds (leaves)
2 lbs. white potatoes, peeled and cubed (I used a mix of Yukon and Idaho, but red skinned are nice, too.)
8 cups chicken broth or stock, low or no sodium
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 baguette thinly sliced
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium low heat. Add the leeks and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, fennel, potatoes and 1 teaspoon of the salt, stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover and allow the soup to cook until all of the vegetables are very tender, about 40 minutes.

While the soup cooks, arrange the sliced baguette on a cookie sheet and turn the oven onto broil. Lightly toast one side of the baguettes, watching carefully…do not burn! Remove the baguette slices from the oven, turn them over and sprinkle each one with some of the Parmesan cheese, dividing evenly. Return the pan to the broiler and toast until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside. Chop the fennel fronds and set aside.

When the vegetables in the soup are tender, remove it from the heat and blend it in the pot until it is very smooth using an immersion stick blender, or you can blend in a traditional blender in batches and return the soup to the pot. It’s hot, so be careful. Put the soup back on the stove on low heat, add the 1 cup of cream, 1 to 1 1/2 (to taste depending on how salty your broth was) additional teaspoons of salt and the black pepper, and stir until smooth. Heat until just heated through. Ladle the soup into bowls and top each with a crouton and a sprinkle of fennel fronds. Serve remaining croutons on the side. As stated previously, this soup is good served hot or cold and on rainy days or sunny days.