|Roasted Fennel Soup with Sea Scallops|
Fennel is one under appreciated vegetable. To be honest, I am not crazy about it raw but I love, love, love it roasted. It is a versatile vegetable playing an important role in Mediterranean cuisines, especially France and Italy. Its unique aromatic taste is reminiscent of licorice and anise, especially in the raw state. Once cooked, it becomes very sweet. It is often called sweet anise in the marketplace.
Good quality fennel will have bulbs that are clean, firm and solid, without signs of splitting, bruising or spotting. The bulbs should be whitish or pale green in color. The stalks should be relatively straight and closely superimposed around the bulb and should not splay out to the sides too much. Both the stalks and the leaves should be green in color.
Cut the green tops from 3-4 large fennel and reserve. If the bulb is discolored or tough, discard the outer layer. Set the bulb on its flat bottom, topside up then split the white bulb in half and slice into ¼ inch thick slices. In a large soup pot, heat ¼ C olive oil; add 1 medium diced onion and the sliced fennel. Stir occasionally and roast until the fennel until it becomes brown on the edges.
|Cutting the fennel|
|Sauteed fennel with tasty brown bits - keep them = great flavor|
Sprinkle 2 Tb all-purpose flour and mix. Add 3 C chicken or vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Scrape up and include all the tasty brown bits on the bottom of the pot. They add tremendous flavor. Then add another 2 C chicken or vegetable stock and 1 C fresh orange juice. Boil the soup 10 minutes. Add 1/3 C cream. Puree the soup in a blender, season with salt, cayenne pepper and add an optional splash of Pernod.
Now for the scallops! Rinse 12-18 large scallops in cold water. Scallops have an adductor muscle on the side. It’s a tough little tab of meat that you should pull off before cooking the scallop because it can be chewy. Dry and season with salt. Heat a nonstick sauté pan over a high heat, and add 2Tb olive oil. The oil needs to be very hot before adding the scallops. Place the scallops flat-side down in the hot pan. Don’t overcrowd the pan, or you will lower the pan temperature, causing the scallops to be steamed rather than seared. A very important tip: once you have placed the scallops in the pan, do not touch them! If you give in to temptation to move the scallops around the pan, all you will be doing is preventing them from forming the nice brown crust that you want. Be patient! Flip the scallops after about 2 minutes.
|The scallop muscle...and my husband's hand!|
Because of variation in scallop thickness and pan temperature, it is not easy to pinpoint an exact cooking time. You want to see a nice, caramel colored crust on the underside. Flip over and cook for another minute but do not overcook. Be careful here as overcooked scallops can be quite rubbery. When removed from the pan, their centers should be slightly translucent because they will continue to cook after removal. They should still be quite springy if you press them with your thumb. If they are very firm or stiff, they’re already overcooked.
To serve the soup, chop a few reserved fennel top fronds and add to soup. Bring soup to a boil, and serve with 2-3 cooked scallops in the center (serves 6)
Give this soup a try – I guarantee you will not be disappointed! The best wine pairing would likely be a Sauvignon Blanc. Other white wines would be a Viognier or a buttery Chardonnay. Pinot Noir would be the best red wine. Bon Appetit!