A luscious spring soup, you say, that's dairy-free, vegan, and can be enjoyed by people with nut allergies? How on earth do you do it? Pepitas, my friends. By lightly toasting and then blitzing the living daylights out of them, you can create a light but creamy soup with subtle nutty undertones, which everyone can eat. It's also outstanding served chilled, by the way. Enjoy!! ;o) —AntoniaJames
4 as a light first course
medium leeks (white parts only), thinly sliced and thoroughly rinsed
stalk celery, sliced
fresh thyme leaves divided (2 for the soup, 1 for the croutons)
2 bulbs of fennel (coarsely chopped), stalks and fronds reserved for the stock
stock (Use the recipe below for the best result.)
raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Large handful of small fresh bread cubes (about a cup or more)
More olive oil (about a tablespoon) for making the croutons
fennel seeds, freshly ground (measure before grinding)
Green tops of the 2 medium leeks you're putting in the soup, thoroughly cleaned and coarsely chopped
Stalks and fronds of the 2 fennel bulbs you're putting in the soup, coarsely chopped
Small handful of fennel seeds (about 3 tablespoons)
Small handful of parsley sprigs. If all you have are stems, that's fine.
MAKE THE STOCK: In a stock pot, put 6 cups of cold water on to boil, covered. Meanwhile, thoroughly clean and coarsely chop the leek tops. Clean and coarsely chop the fennel tops and fronds. Scrub and cut the celery stalk into 2-inch pieces. Coarsely chop the parsley.
Add everything you just cut, along with the crushed fennel seeds, to the stock pot. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down. Let the stock bubble lazily for at least 30 minutes. 45 is even better. Strain and measure the stock. Add water if necessary to make five cups.
MAKE THE SOUP: In a large, heavy soup pot, warm the olive oil and then add the sliced leeks. Coat with the oil, cover the pot, and sweat for about three minutes over medium low heat, stirring after a minute or so.
Add the fennel, celery, and 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves, along with the stock and a good pinch of salt. Bring to a slow boil, then turn down the heat so the soup is simmering. Let it continue to simmer with the lid on for about 20 minutes.
Heat your oven to 400 degrees, for toasting your croutons. Or use a toaster oven. I don't have a toaster oven, so I do this while baking or roasting something else.
Meanwhile, toast the pepitas in a hot dry skillet on the stove over medium heat for about a minute, shaking the skillet frequently, lest the pepitas burn. Immediately remove them from the skillet and put them into a blender. (Use a conventional blender for this and not a stick blender. It needs to run for a good long while. Plus, the bigger blender is better suited for blending the fibrous vegetables in this soup.)
MAKE THE CROUTONS: Toss the bread cubes with a good sprinkling of olive oil; then sprinkle on a hefty pinch of salt, the remaining teaspoon of thyme leaves and the ground fennel seeds. Bake on a cookie sheet for about 5-7 minutes, or until toasted and fragrant.
FINISH MAKING THE SOUP: Use a ladle or cup measure with a handle to remove about 1/2 cup of broth from the soup. Put it in the blender with toasted pumpkin seeds. Hold the lid down using a tea towel. Blend at high speed for about 3 minutes, scraping down after the first minute and then again after the second minute.
Add the rest of the contents of the soup pot to the blender. Cover the top of the lid with a tea towel and blend at high speed for two minutes. Scrape down the sides, blend for another two minutes, and then blend for another minute. Test for salt and correct.
If serving this for a formal dinner, strain the soup through a fine sieve and warm again gently before plating.
When I'm not working (negotiating transactions for internet companies), or outside enjoying the gorgeous surroundings here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm likely to be cooking, shopping for food, planning my next culinary experiment, or researching, voraciously, whatever interests me. In my kitchen, no matter what I am doing -- and I actually don't mind cleaning up -- I am deeply grateful for having the means to create, share with others and eat great food. Life is very good. ;o)