A Hard Week + RECIPE: Tomato Fennel Soup with White Cheddar Crisp

It’s been a hard week my friends. A very hard, very long, and very emotionally taxing week for so many of us for so many reasons. Regardless of your feelings about Tuesday’s results, you probably have an opinion about who our next President is or our country’s response to it. Tensions have been high and Facebook has been a pretty tumultuous place. Everyone seems to be upset. Everyone seems to be raw and unfiltered.

I was surprised during the aftermath of Tuesday’s election to find my own voice on social media. In an online world where I try to keep my distance from politics, I too felt I needed to speak up. The voice that came out was measured, deliberate, thoughtful, and dare I say mature (seriously, where did that come from?!). I took time to recognize my own bias, my own filter bubble, my own emotions, and I desperately tried to set that aside. I spoke mostly of kindness and love and using this time to listen to and learn from one another.

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Over the next several days, there were a million phone calls and text messages with friends all over the country and several birthday celebrations that brought opportunities to dig deep into politics with family. My Carrot said you are supposed to avoid politics during birthday celebrations and though he’s probably right, I just couldn’t.

I needed to dig into the minds of the people I loved (who luckily for me all have very diverse voices). My personal grief process is all about seeking knowledge from as many channels as I can get it from. If I can understand something, then I can learn to move forward. If I can see how we got where we are, then I can begin building solutions. I’m a problem solver. I can’t sit and wallow. I have to engage, inform and listen. I have to comprehend.

My internal dialogues about politics ultimately led to an internal dialogue about food and agriculture. That is our life after all. And suddenly, I realized what an important place I’m in. All this talk of rural versus urban defining the results of the election and the philosophical, political and intellectual divide that exists between us country and city folk. That’s big. I mean that’s a big freaking divide. And here I am, smack dab in the middle of it all. A farming girl who also works in the city. A rural kid with big city dreams. A CSA grower who markets largely to urban residents. My life has never felt so important. My food world has never felt so huge.

So that’s where I’m at as I close this beautiful birthday weekend (I guess I’ve have to find another time to fill you in the actual birthday later). But I suppose this is not what you all came here for. You likely didn’t come here to talk politics or solutions or even to ask deep questions about our agricultural system (though I’m so happy to chat with you about any of these things if you need it). In fact, you probably came here to avoid all that. You probably came here for happy things because that’s the business I’m in: happy things that soothe and comfort and bring us all together.

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So that’s what I’ll leave you with as we end this weekend and embark on another week that hopefully feels a little less heavy. I’ll share with you my most soothing and comforting recipe of all. I’ve been sitting on this Tomato Fennel Soup since a farm dinner back in September. That’s where these pictures are from. It’s one of my favorite recipes of all time. The leeks, fennel and sage bring a depth and a warmth to traditional tomato soup. The texture isn’t silky smooth and I love that about it. A dollop of sour cream and white cheddar crisps bring the dish together in a way that is sheer happiness in a bowl. A little cream. A little crunch. A whole lot of warmth.

This is the soup we all need right now. A soup to share with friends and family as we talk about thoughts and feelings, fears and beliefs, and most of all, the things we don’t understand. Let’s use a large pot of soup to bring us together on a cool November day.

So much love to everyone in this time when we all need a little more love.
-Leek

TOMATO FENNEL SOUP WITH WHITE CHEDDAR CRISP
*This is the one recipe where it doesn’t really matter if the tomatoes you use are rock hard and not as perfectly ripe as summer tomatoes or not. However, if you happened to have the forethought to freeze or can whole tomatoes this summer, feel free to use those. In that case, pour the tomatoes with their juices in a 9 x 11 baking pan instead of a baking sheet. 

Serves 8
Takes 1 hour, 20 minutes

2 tablespoons butter
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced
1 large fennel bulb, cored and diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 pounds tomatoes, cored and halved* (see note)
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage (or 2 teaspoons dried sage), plus more to taste
2 tablespoons minced fennel fronds
1/2 cup heavy cream
Sour cream, optional
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved, optional

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add leeks, fennel, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking until soft. Reduce to low and continue cooking slowly for additional 20 minutes while the tomatoes roast.
  3. Drizzle oil over baking sheet. Add tomatoes, cut side down. (If you are using frozen or canned tomatoes, see directions above). It’s fine if they are crowded but make sure they are in a single layer. If they don’t all fit on one pan, then leave the rest for another use. Sprinkle with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Roast for 40 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes (with juices) to stock pot along with chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes on medium low.
  5. Meanwhile, line a clean, dry baking sheet with parchment paper. Place 8 mounds of cheese on parchment. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 18 minutes until browned and lacy-looking. Remove from heat and allow to cool before moving.
  6. Remove soup from heat. Puree with an immersion blender (or in a food process or blender). Add sage, fennel fronds and cream. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  7. Serve warm with cheese crisp, a dollop of sour cream, halved cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of sage or fennel.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. @5Sensespalate says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your feelings Lauren. I’ve had such a hard time staying connected on social media this week. My way of healing is withdrawing myself from it all, to gain my strength, to look deep down at my feelings. I hear you and I understand you! This soup sounds like the perfect medicine to anything, I love the cheese crisps, I make them all the time with parmesan. BIG HUG my friend! We are in this funk together!!!

    Like

  2. Leek says:

    Thank you so much Sujhey! I’m so glad you took time to look inward too! I really have never felt like taking time for reflection to be more important than last week. Hope your spirits have been lifted and you are finding ways to get involved!

    Like

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