At the end of last week we had planned to meet a good friend at a new bistro in Paris. But the tragic events that unfolded between Wednesday and Friday were so unsettling that we all agreed a casual dinner at home was a better idea. When I suggested that we gather for a simple soup and salad supper at our small apartment, our pal was on board immediately and offered to bring dessert.
For the main course, I had in mind a rustic soup prepared by sautéing chopped fennel, onion, and carrots and then simmering those vegetables along with white beans in stock. Short on time, I opted for canned beans, rinsing and draining them well before stirring them into the pot, and was delighted with the results. For extra flavor some chopped fresh rosemary and dry white wine balanced the flavors nicely, while crispy julienned prosciutto and golden homemade croutons made fine garnishes.
A salad of mixed greens, thinly sliced red onion, and toasted walnuts in a red wine dressing and a plate of cheeses rounded out the menu. Our friend arrived with a box of pastries—profiteroles with various fillings and a luscious chestnut and whipped cream creation known as a Mont Blanc.
We had a leisurely meal, and then talked well into the night about this historic week in France’s capital. Our soup supper and good conversation were definitely restorative.
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Fennel and White Bean Soup Topped with Crispy Prosciutto
1 large or two small fennel bulbs
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup finely diced carrot
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed (See note.)
Freshly ground black pepper
Two 15.5-16 ounce cans white beans such as Great Northern or navy
4 cups reduced sodium chicken stock
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 tsp fresh chopped rosemary
4 tbsp olive oil
3 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into julienned strips 3 to 4 inches long and 1/4 inch wide
1 1/2 cups croutons cut from good quality artisan bread into 3/4 inch cubes (Sourdough works particularly well.)
2 tsp fresh rosemary, plus 4 to 6 rosemary sprigs
1. Trim the lacy stalks from the fennel and discard. Halve the bulb or bulbs lengthwise; cut out and discard tough cores. Chop the fennel to yield about 1 1/2 cups.
2. Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan set over medium heat. When hot, add the fennel, onion, carrot, and garlic, and sauté, stirring often, until they are just softened and translucent, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the crushed fennel seeds, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of pepper.
3. Add the beans and stock. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and then lower heat. Cook at a gentle simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
4. Remove 1 cup of the soup and puree it in a food processor or blender. Then whisk the pureed mixture back into the soup to thicken it. Stir in the wine and 1 1/2 teaspoons rosemary, and continue to simmer the soup for 5 minutes. Remove and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat, stirring occasionally.)
5. For the garnishes, add 1 tablespoon of oil to a heavy, medium skillet set over medium heat. When hot, add the prosciutto and sauté, stirring with a fork (to help separate the strips if you stacked them before slicing them into strips), until crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Add 3 more tablespoons of oil to the same skillet and return to medium heat. When hot add the croutons and cook, stirring, until golden on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and set aside. (Prosciutto and croutons can be prepared 1 hour ahead; leave uncovered at room temperature.)
6. To serve ladle soup into soup bowls, and top each serving with some croutons and prosciutto. Sprinkle each portion with some fresh rosemary and garnish with a rosemary sprig. Serves 4 generously or 6 with smaller (close to 1-cup) portions
Note: Crush fennel seeds in an electric spice grinder, or place them in a mortar and crush finely with a pestle, or put in a plastic bag and pound with a meat pounder or rolling pin. The seeds should be finely crushed.
Prep time: 25 minutes
Start-to-finish: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2015