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The Earthbound Cook
by Myra Goodman
Juicy pears and crisp, anise-scented fennel may seem like an odd pairing, but this delicate soup is remarkable for its subtle flavor and silken texture. This is the only soup in this cookbook that is meant to be served as a small, elegant starter. Fennel and pears are both at their seasonal best in the cooler months of autumn, and the aromatic, cleansing flavor of fennel perfectly balances the overt sweetness of the pears. In its raw state fennel has a sweet anise taste, but when cooked, its distinctive licorice-like flavor tames and mellows. To subtly reassert some of this elusive flavor, ground fennel and a splash of Sambuca are added to the soup at serving time. For an elegant presentation, garnish each serving with a sprig of feathery fennel fronds.
• 4 cups very thinly sliced fennel (about 2 large bulbs)
• 1 cup pear nectar
• 3 Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
• 1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream, or more to taste
• 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
• 1 teaspoon fennel (anise) seed, toasted (see box) and ground
• 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 to 2 teaspoons Sambuca or Pernod (optional)
1. Combine the fennel and 2 cups water in a medium-size saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes.
2. Add the pear nectar and the diced pears, cover the pan, and cook until the pears and fennel are very soft and tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool for 10 minutes.
3. Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor, and puree until smooth. Pass the soup through a fine-mesh sieve set over a clean saucepan; discard any solids. Reheat the soup over medium-low heat. Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Season the soup with sea salt. If the soup seems too thin, cook for 5 to 10 minutes to reduce and concentrate the flavors.
4. Just before serving, add the ground fennel, lemon juice, and Sambuca (if using). (Do not add these in advance of serving because much of the flavor will dissipate.) Divide the soup among four warmed bowls, and serve hot.
TOASTING NUTS AND SEEDS
Toasting brings out the wonderful flavor and aroma of nuts and seeds and makes them crisp and crunchy. This step takes only a few minutes, but you must watch the nuts and seeds carefully, as they can burn very easily. To reduce the risk of this happening, toast nuts whole or in large pieces.
• IN THE OVEN: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the nuts or seeds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake them for 5 minutes; then stir. Continue baking until the nuts or seeds are warm to the touch, lightly colored, and fragrant, 2 to 5 minutes longer.
• IN THE MICROWAVE: Spread the nuts or seeds in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave on high power for 1 to 3 minutes, checking and stirring every 30 to 60 seconds, until the nuts or seeds are warm to the touch, lightly colored, and fragrant. The cooking time will depend on the variety of nut, the amount you are toasting, and the wattage of your microwave oven.
• ON THE STOVETOP: Place the nuts or seeds in a single layer in a heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium heat. Slowly toast, stirring occasionally, until the nuts or seeds are warm to the touch, lightly colored, and fragrant, 3 to 10 minutes.
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