Last week the weather was miserable. That silly nor’easter blew through and it was just three days of rain, wind, and chilly temperatures. Saturday was the saving grace of the week because yesterday the chill was back as was the wind. I’m not a fan. I’ve been acting like a baby about it and I have no shame. I even refuse to turn on the heat out of spite. And because that makes absolutely no sense, the only result is a chilly night’s sleep and a cranky husband. Suffice to say, we needed soup last night for some extra warmth (as if I need an excuse for soup). BUT, good news on the way: tomorrow it will be 68 degrees!
I was inspired by a bowl of Manhattan clam chowder I had last week at a work lunch at the Sheraton hotel here in Stamford. It was pretty delicious and I realized I enjoy the Manhattan style so much more than that of New England. While I didn’t have any seafood on hand, I did have other ingredients that work well in a tomato-based concoction. I’m pretty pleased with how this soup turned out – I would even serve it to others; a rare occasion since I’m usually pretty insecure of my recipes. 🙂
For the soup
4 oz pancetta
1 yellow onion, diced
1 fennel bulb, diced (save the fronds for garnish)
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons Pernod
32 oz chicken stock
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
28 oz crushed tomatoes
Freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
Olive oil for drizzling
½ – 1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
½ – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon white pepper
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
For the cheese croutons
Day old bread, cubed – Italian or a French baguette work well
Shredded Gruyère or a similar style cheese (I used the rest of my Sprout Creek Farm Batch 35)
Olive oil for drizzling
Freshly chopped rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
Start with the soup. No need to make the croutons until the soup is just about ready to serve. Heat a large dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Drizzle in a bit of olive oil (not much is needed). Throw in the pancetta and let it cook until it is nice and crispy. Then remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and set it aside. Reserve about 1 – 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pot, remove the rest. Next, add the diced onion, fennel, a bit of salt, and pepper. Give it a good stir and let cook until they begin to soften. Add in the garlic, smoked paprika, cayenne, and white pepper. Let the mixture cook until the onion and fennel are translucent. Then pour in the Pernod and let the liquid reduce completely. Once the Pernod has done its thing, pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add in the potatoes and tomatoes. Stir, and bring to a boil again. Then reduce the heat and let the soup simmer for an hour or so. Feel free to add in a bit more salt, pepper, etc. and taste as you go. When the potatoes are soft and cooked through and the soup is deemed ready, it’s time to make the croutons.
Preheat the broiler. Then in a small bowl, toss bread cubes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary. Move the mixture to a 6-8 inch pan (cast iron would be best). Top with cheese and place in the broiler for 3-4 minutes. The cheese will be perfectly melty and the bread crispy when finished.
Serve up the soup in a large bowl and topped with a portion of the croutons. Finish with a sprinkle of pancetta and fennel fronds.