I didn’t mean to do it, but you can see the steam billowing away from this hot Fennel-Leek Soup with Walnut Pesto. Hearty without being heavy, this is a lovely light lunch with toasted baguette and cheese..
|Left: Roquefort Right: Aged Provolone|
or a lemony start to a special dinner. Simple pictures are often best and this is no exception. The soup pot ingredients are mostly fresh fennel, sliced leeks, chicken stock, and lemon juice–cooked up in about twenty minutes until the vegetables are just barely tender. The only complexity involved, and it isn’t much, is a gremolata-like pesto made in the food processor using today’s power food, walnuts, along with lemon and parsley. Traditional gremolata contains garlic, but I tossed that in the soup pot intead, so have named the topping a pesto. You can call it what you like; I also call it good.
As walnuts are the nut grown where I live in Minnesota (there’s a black walnut tree right down the street), I was happy to blog about them today! Not only are they locally sourced and extra-heart-healthy goodies, they also improve brain function and are full of anti-oxidants. A good source of easy-to-carry protein, walnuts weigh in at about 185 calories per ounce (about 14 walnut halves.) While we think of walnut oil as special salad oil, in France, at least, it was in years past used in lamps for light along with candles. I happen to be reading a book just this week From Here, You Can’t See Paris: Seasons of a French Village and its Restaurant, by Michael S. Sanders. Just at the point were I stopped, a local duck farmer was explaining about walnut oil to the author, as many local gardens featured walnut trees and some farms still had walnut groves:
(100 years ago)… And of course they force-fed geese, mostly for the fat, rather than for the meat. FOR THE FAT! Not for using in preservation, because pork fat is better than goose for that, but for cooking! And the walnut oil, they burned in little lamps, a shallow dish with a wick suspended above — you see them in all the antique shops now — les calèmes. They had walnut oil, back then, for lights. Oh, people make such a big cheese of the walnut oil now, eh? But it’s not that good, it goes rancid fast, and back then it was used almost entirely for lighting. They had no petroleum yet, that was the next thing to come. So they burned walnut oil or candles.
Three things: walnut oil was and is probably used for a lot of things, but it isn’t terribly useful for cooking per se as it’s heat-sensitive and burns easily. Also, it does become rancid easily, so buy small quantities and store the oil in the refrigerator. I have always stored walnuts in the freezer (up to a year); they keep only about a month on the pantry shelf. Let them come to room temperature before using for baking.
|Learn more about walnut here, but first make the soup!|
|The pesto ready to be made in the food processor.|
4 generous main-course servings
6 small first course servings
Cook’s Note: While the soup cooks, make the pesto, and have it ready at the table. This soup is easily vegan if vegetable broth is used instead of chicken stock. Without the toasted cheese accompaniment, it’s also gluten-free.
for the soup:
- 1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter
- Pinch aleppo pepper (can substitute crushed red pepper), optional
- 2 fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored, and sliced thinly
- 6 leeks, white and light green parts only, well cleaned, and sliced thinly
- 1 small carrot, peeled and sliced thinly
- 1 celery stalk, minced
- 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 quart chicken stock (or vegetable broth)
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1-2 drops hot sauce, optional
- Juice of 1/2 lemon–or to taste (you need to grate the peel for the pesto-do that first!)
for the walnut pesto:
- 1/4 cup each fresh parsley and walnut pieces-whole or in pieces
- grated peel from 1/2 lemon
- In a 6 quart soup pot, heat the oil and butter with the pepper over medium heat. Add the fennel, the leeks, carrot, celery, parsley, herbs, salt, and pepper. Stir, cover and cook about ten minutes, stirring once or twice; turn heat down if browning too quickly.
- Add the garlic, stir, and cook two minutes. Pour in the stock and the white wine. Season with hot sauce, if desired. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and let cook another ten minutes or so until all vegetables are tender.
- Meanwhile, make the pesto by placing all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or hand chopper and pulsing until finely ground like fresh breadcrumbs. Place in a small serving bowl with a tiny spoon at the table.
- When vegetables are tender, purée soup using an immersion blender or in batches in the food processor or blender. Squeeze in about half of the lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary, adding the rest of the lemon juice if you like it. I liked just a little more salt–this will depend on how salty your stock was. Serve hot with a small spoonful or two of the walnut pesto.
Disclaimer: For vegan and gluten-free options, please check all ingredients in your own kitchen as some ingredients are available with different options from different manufacturers. As always, check with your dietician with questions.
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