Serves: 4 to 6
Prep Time: 15 minutes | Cook Time: 35 minutes
I think the perfect tomato soup is the culinary equivalent of the Little Black Dress. It’s got to be simple, but not predictable; it has to serve many purposes, from daytime lunch to elegant soiree. And it’s got to have a bit of French style to it. Well this soup is the LBD of the kitchen. It comes from my pal Julie, who trained in France, hence the subtle touches of fennel and orange (very Provençal). The cream adds elegance (Julie uses half-and-half, but I like full-bore cream for smoothness). It’s easy to put together—I zipped up a batch to serve for lunch this weekend with leftover pizza. It can be dressed down in chunky mugs or smartened up in white bowls for a Dungeness crab feast, or Christmas dinner, or New Year’s Eve. It would turn plain old grilled cheese sandwich into a statement. In fact, make it a grilled gruyére and pear sandwich—viewing of Breakfast at Tiffany‘s optional.
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, cored and sliced
1 large can (28 oz) chopped plum tomatoes
2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and chopped (see note)
1 strip orange zest, about 4 in. long
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
3 cups homemade vegetable or chicken stock or low-sodium canned broth
1 cup heavy cream
Heat butter or oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and fennel; cook, stirring frequently, until soft and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes with their juice, bell peppers, orange zest, fennel seeds and broth. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover and simmer 30 minutes, until fennel and peppers are tender.
Fish out orange peel if you can find it (if not, don’t worry). Puree mixture with an immersion blender until smooth or let cool, then puree in a blender, in batches (do not puree hot soup in a blender as it can burst out the top). If using immersion blender, stir in cream after pureeing. If blending separately, return pureed soup to pot and stir in cream. Either way, heat the soup through (if you want a thicker soup, boil for about 5 minutes to reduce cream). Season to taste with salt.
note: you can use roasted, peeled peppers from a 12-oz jar instead of doing it yourself.