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When Paris came to Seattle, or on carrot-fennel soup

Some days, everything just falls into place. Seattle has been sunny and warm and at least temporarily spring-like; I managed to twist and cajole my hair into a messy-chic ballerina-meets-French-frump bun that stayed in place—no drooping!—for over seven hours; and, thanks to divine intervention and local farmers, I bought two brimming basketfuls of organic strawberries and still have money left over to pay rent. It really doesn't get any better than that—unless, of course, the whole scene takes place in Paris. It’s downright bliss all around, and especially the fantastic hair. Enjoying these things isn’t easy, however; it takes work, or rather, it takes leaving work early.

The story begins a few mornings ago, when I found myself sitting in my office, distractedly watching the angle of the sun shift on the building across the alley from my window. By two in the afternoon, it was unbearable: I was suffering indoors while a spectacular day hovered just out of reach on the other side of the windowpane. But rather than continue to needlessly moan and mourn, I put down my red proofreading pencil and traded the carpeted hallway of the office for the concrete of the sidewalk. A few blocks away at Pike Place Market, I found that I wasn’t the only one: we were a crowd full of shirkers. And with good reason: at the produce stands, tables were lined with berries and ramps and frilly-topped carrots, and pale green bulbs of fennel leaned invitingly out of wooden crates. As I stopped to admire them, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find an unfamiliar woman standing next to me.

“Where is the Metro?” she asked, staring at me from behind dark sunglasses.

“You mean the Metro buses?” I replied, trying to remember if I’d ever heard anyone call the local public transportation system by its official name.

“No, the Métro, may-TRO,” she said, carefully enunciating through what I now recognized as a distinctly French accent. She made a downward zooming motion with her hand, as if to imitate a train going underground, and looked at me quizzically.

“Oh, the Métro? The subway? Seattle doesn’t have a subway. But you can catch a bus on Third Avenue,” I explained, gesturing up the hill. She turned from me and started away, and I returned to the piles of produce, wondering at our surreal exchange. Lo and behold, Paris had come to Pike Place.

Looking at the fennel bulb under my hand, I remembered the morning that I came to France last June, when I opened the door to my short-term rental, threw my bags down gleefully on the bed, and ran back outside to the Sunday market—a French version, if you will, of the one I found myself standing in now. That morning, I snatched up the makings for a modest early-summer feast—red-skinned apricots, a ripe wedge or two of cheese, and the ingredients for my favorite carrot-fennel soup—and came home to lunch in my little studio, with its tiny hallway kitchen, sunny terrace, and kitschy garden gnome in the grass. And this Seattle afternoon ten months later, I decided that it was only fitting to cap my superlative day with a celebratory carrot-fennel nod to Paris—who, after all, had come a great distance to find me.

Indeed, some days, everything just falls into place. So I came home to my familiar long-term rental with its not-so-tiny kitchen, sunny catwalk balcony, and kitschy garden gnome on the railing; threw my grocery bag down gleefully on the counter; and ran for the stockpot.

Carrot-Fennel Soup
Adapted from Amanda Hesser in The New York Times Magazine, and, I think, Cooking for Mr. Latte

This light soup strikes a perfect balance between the delicate springtime flavors of young carrots and fennel. Be sure to choose carrots that are sweet and worthy of being eaten on their own; if you make this soup with tired, winter-weary ones, you’ll be sorry.

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced; fronds reserved and chopped
1 ½ lbs. carrots, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4-5 cups vegetable broth (I used Imagine brand)
¾ tsp. salt, or to taste
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 Tbsp. crème fraîche, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large, heavy saucepan, warm oil over medium heat. Add the fennel slices, and cook, stirring, until softened. Add the carrots and garlic, and cook for another minute or two. Pour in 4 cups vegetable broth (if, after puréeing, you feel that the soup is too thick, you can add the final cup, but it’s better to err on the side of adding too little at first), and season with salt. Simmer, covered, until the carrots and fennel are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat, and stir in the orange juice and reserved fennel fronds. If you have an immersion blender, purée the soup directly in the pot; otherwise, transfer it in batches to a food processor or blender, puréeing until smooth. Stir in the crème fraîche. Taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve warm.

(Recipe updated March 20, 2007.)


Anonymous Nicole Marie said...

Wow, Molly, you're scaring me!
I just finished my dinner of carrot, orange, and tarragon soup with a side of lentilles au fenouil... and then I read this post. Have the vegetable gods aligned stars just so, or is this a big ol' coincidence?
Your soup recipe sounds better than mine turned out, by the way. But if you'd like to make my terribly addictive lentils, allez-y.

1:09 PM, April 29, 2005  
Blogger Dawna said...

I love carrot soup. I love fennel. Why has it never occured to me to put the two together? This shall go on next week's menu, certainly!

2:28 PM, April 29, 2005  
Blogger amylou said...

I'm usually a no-fennel no-way kind of girl but something about this makes me think I may soon reconsider my stance.

And can you please send some of your weather this way?

10:11 AM, April 30, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Quelle coincidence, Nicole Marie! Your lentils sound wonderful, and I'll definitely be trying them soon...

Dawna, this soup is is one of my favorites. Let me know how you like it...

And Amy, the fennel here plays only a supporting role; it brings a certain brightness to the soup without sending it over the edge with anise. Maybe it could help coax spring into coming to Malmo?

1:43 PM, May 01, 2005  
Blogger Carol said...

I am definitely going to try this! I've been eating fennel lately as well...radish and fennel salad and roasted fennel...it's a somewhat new vegetable for me so thanks for sharing the recipe. (By the way, I've tried a bunch of recipes from your blog...just made the granola and braised red cabbage yesterday, those scrumptious ginger cookies last weekend, and the pea and tomato soups recently also. They've all been so yummy. Your palate is impeccable!)

3:39 PM, May 02, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Wow, Carol, I should hire you as a recipe tester (errr, or I would, if this site were revenue-generating)! Thank so much for trying so many of "my" recipes, and for reporting back. As for your recent fennel kick, I'm right there with you. Just today I made an enormous lunchtime salad that included raw shaved fennel and thinly sliced radishes, as a matter of fact. Yum.

5:09 PM, May 02, 2005  
Blogger TanTian said...

Girl, I am so feeling you on the bun thing. Why is it that the bun you pay the least attention to (the brushing the teeth bun, the hot and sweaty neck bun) can have such beauty and such staying power, but the one time you actually want the messy bun look you can only make one that's too neat, or that droops? Kudos on breaking the mold.

5:44 PM, May 02, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

TanTian, I'm so glad that you understand the glory that was my bun. Really. It just made me so...happy. Ahh.

11:03 PM, May 03, 2005  
Blogger Dawna said...

Hi Molly!

I made the carrot & fennel soup last night, and it was wonderful. I happened on the organic Imagine veggie stock in my market, so I picked it up (I've never used it before).

The texture was just perfect: silky, smooth, rich. I took your suggestion to start with the 4 cups of stock, and it only needed a tiny bit more (well, I used water at that point). I'm contemplating sprinkling a little roasted cumin seed on the leftovers - my household thinks that everything is better with cumin.

8:26 AM, May 05, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Dawna, I love a good success story. The addition of cumin sounds delicious...I'll have to give it a go myself.

3:35 PM, May 05, 2005  
Blogger posthipchick said...

am i the only one who sees the hair in that soup?

10:27 PM, June 20, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Posthipchick, I appreciate your concern, and I'm happy to clarify that what you're seeing is most thankfully NOT a hair--it's a wispy bit of fennel frond. See recipe for details. Phew.

8:57 AM, June 21, 2005  
Anonymous David C said...

A bit late, but still worth a post: I put "fennel soup" into Google this evening to see what I could do new with the fennel bulb I had and this recipe came up. Delicious! I'll definitely be making this again. Maybe double the quantity, but otherwise the same. Greetings from Cambridge UK, I might take a browse around and see what else I can find we'd like here. Thanks again.

3:13 PM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Alice Q said...

How fun! I love Pikes Place Market, and I am determined to someday do a stay in Paris like yours. It's one of those "to do before you die" kind of things I think - or at least it's one of mine! I made the "rancho la puerta" granola that I found on your recipe list the other day and I am planning to post about it - I love it!

5:39 PM, March 21, 2007  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

I think you need something crunchay on top! Either that or another color ;)

8:47 AM, March 23, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

How funny! I just made this soup again the other day, for the first time in about a year, and I made a few tweaks, so I decide to update the recipe online. It must have triggered something in your Bloglines, or whatever aggregator you use, Alice Q. and wheresmymind! I saw your comments and thought, "What weird timing! I just updated this two-year-old post, and lo and behold, it gets new comments!" It didn't occur to me until this morning that it probably showed up in your aggregator as a new post, eh?

Either way, you really should try the soup! It's perfect for this time of year, and so, so good with a bit of creme fraiche! I've been eating it for lunch all week...

9:11 AM, March 23, 2007  
Blogger Mel said...

I tried this tonight, and I felt I was violating your tenet from the book about following the recipe to the letter the first time you try it--I forgot to buy veggie broth, so I used chicken broth instead, and I decided to chance skipping the creme fraiche. I think the chicken broth was an okay move, but it probably could've used the creme fraiche. Instead I gave it some tang by adding some white wine vinegar. Now I'm wishing I had followed the recipe. :o)

Also wanted to tell you how much I loved your book, and I was touched by how you were able to put into words some things I have felt about food but never could quite articulate.

10:20 PM, June 03, 2010  
Anonymous dominica said...

in one of those moments of serendipity, my fridge contained the exact ingredients for this lovey soup. I was a little nervous about adding the orange juice, but i did. And i am very glad of this, because the hint of orange that comes through with every slurp is a delicious surprise...thanks for a wonderful recipe.

9:12 PM, June 15, 2010  
Blogger Laura said...

thanks for the recipe. the soup was delicious.

2:08 PM, August 06, 2010  

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