fennel-tomato-soup

A few years ago, I went to a party thrown by the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate, and one of the best, most unforgettable, things there was the tomato soup. They were serving it in shot glasses, and by the time I made my way over there, a crowd of people had gathered to down shots and guess the secret ingredient.

The soup was creamy and smoky. Like, bacon-smoky. Had to be bacon, right? I thought the vegetables had been sautéed in bacon grease, for this is the way of my people.

Nope, the soup was completely vegetarian.

They’d smoked the onions and fennel.

I KNOW.

I didn’t think I’d ever be able to pull off this soup at home, but then Jeff got a stovetop smoker for Christmas, and it was ON. I smoked the fennel and onion inside in about 10 minutes, tossed them in  big pot with a few tablespoons of butter and a diced carrot, and let them sweat until the veggies were soft.

Then it was time to add the tomatoes.

At Kendall-Jackson, they made the soup with five pounds of peak-season California heirloom tomatoes, which I do not have, so I weighed out five pounds of whole peeled canned tomatoes. Not the same, but it was the best I could do, and I’d still do body shots of it off a hooker’s back.

The finishing touch is a full cup-and-a-half of cream, which works out to three tablespoons per serving. Feel free to dial that back, as you wish.

If you don’t have access to a stovetop or outdoor smoker, you can still make a version of this soup by roasting the fennel and onion. Just slice the veggies into chunks, toss them with a little salt and olive oil, and roast them on a baking sheet for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees F. Your soup will be sweeter but still delicious.

Smoked Fennel and Tomato Soup

The original recipe used 5 pounds of red heirloom tomatoes (with their cores removed) roughly chopped.

Adapted from Justin Wangler (for Kendall-Jackson Winery)

Serves 8

  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 small yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1-inch thick rings
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) of butter, unsalted
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced small
  • Kosher salt
  • 5 pounds whole peeled canned tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Specialty equipment needed: stovetop smoker and oak chips

  1. Place 2 tablespoons of finely ground oak chips in the bottom of the base pan of a stovetop smoker. Set the drip tray on top of the chips, and place the rack on the drip tray.
  2. Place the fennel and onion on the rack, and slide the lid closed.
  3. Place the smoker on the stovetop. Set the heat to medium, and smoke the vegetables for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the fennel and onion, and roughly chop them into small pieces.
  5. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add fennel, onion, fennel seeds, and carrot, and season with salt. Cook until the vegetables are soft and the onions are translucent.
  6. Add the tomatoes, and cook for 15 minutes.
  7. Add the cream, and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
  8. Remove soup from heat, and carefully process it in batches in a blender until smooth. (You could also use an immersion blender or food processor.) Season to taste.
  9. Strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer. Reheat, and serve.

Wine Recommendation: Serve with Kendall-Jackson’s Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir.