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.
You can make this soup as is and you’ll be happy with it, I think. But I encourage you to improvise with your own leftovers and sudden bounty. Some roast chicken torn up and added might be nice. That zucchini threatening to go bad in the produce bin would be good. Even swapping the broth for some miso to make it vegetarian could be delicious. If you come up with something good, let us know.
Tomato Fennel Soup
Serves 2 to 3
1 whole fennel bulb (about 1 pound before trimming)
1 medium onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes (or chopped tomatoes – see Kitchen Notes)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 generous teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
2 cups unsalted or reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
4 ounces dry uncooked spaghetti