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