Sunday, March 27, 2016

Tomato & Fennel Soup with Fennel Frond Pesto and Creamy Polenta for Cook The Books: The Unprejudiced Palate and for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Our Cook the Books February/March 2016 pick is The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life, by Angelo Pellegrini and hosted by Simona of briciole.The Unprejudiced Palate was first written in 1948 by Pellegrini--cook, author, professor of English Literature at the University of Washington and a man in possessing no shortage of opinions on cooking, wine, growing food and eating seasonally and locally.

I can't say that I fully loved this book for as much as I admire the author's passion and his way of bringing simple, seasonal ingredients together in delicious combinations--ahead of his time in many ways, he does have a tendency to grate on the nerves because as sweetly pointed out by Alice Waters, unprejudiced he is not. 

"I have always thought that Angelo Pellegrini misnamed his charming but opinionated book. It should have been called 'The Prejudiced Palate,' because he is so absolutely sure and unwavering in his vision of how to live a beautiful and delicious life." 
--Alice Waters, owner, Chez Panisse.

Pellegrini makes many good points about food, growing, cooking and eating but his oft condescending tone and sweeping generalizations of America, amateur cooks--particularly the dreaded housewife and her "unimaginative culinary routine"--make the chapters a bit of hit or miss. The best parts of the book for me were his descriptions of an immigrants life in America and the rise of ingredients like olive oil, garlic, and pasta that we take for granted today, but were once either exotic and hard to find or unpopular in this country. Pellegrini's recipe for the now ubiquitous pesto was published in Sunset magazine in 1946, the first major publication of a pesto recipe recipe. Pretty amazing to think about that now. Although not a cookbook per se, there are so many great little recipe ideas and cooking tips tucked into the pages of this little book that it makes the frustration in getting there worth it. Pellegrini was a master, just not someone I would have wanted to hang out with. ;-)

As you may expect if you know me at all, or read this blog, I had to make a soup as my book-inspired dish. Pellegrini devotes a good section in a chapter to soup in "The Kitchen and the Soup Kettle." He believed there are two main soup categories--"those that are most adequate as an introduction to dinner and those that are most satisfactory as meals in themselves." I went for a more substantial soup, even though mine is meat free--a tomato and fennel Soup, topped with fennel frond pesto and served over creamy polenta with a scattering of Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh basil.

Would Pellegrini have approved of my soup? Of parts I think--the use of a good homemade broth (made from Parmesan rinds), the pesto adding a layer of flavor, the lack of carrots and peas (he found them too sweet), the base of polenta--a nod to the humble peasant soup, and the reduction of waste by repurposing the fennel fronds as pesto instead  throwing them away. On the other hand, he did not seem to be a fennel fan--classifying it as a less-familiar herb--"used mainly in salads and beverages designed for people who enjoy novelty more than good food." He would have likely hated a non-basil pesto too. And, finally, I am sure this soup is too much in both ingredients and in name as Pellegrini states that "giving dishes fancy foreign names is a silly preoccupation.

This soup can be served in different ways based on your preference--as shown in the different photos. The tomato-fennel soup can be ladled over creamy polenta, or the polenta can be cooled and cut into pieces, or toasted into croutons, the polenta whisked into the soup as it reaches the end of cooking, so that it mixes in for a stew-like texture. I don't think you can go wrong here.

Tomato & Fennel Soup with Fennel Frond Pesto and Creamy Polenta
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 6)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 sweet onion, diced
2 medium fennel bulbs, cleaned and thinly sliced/chopped, fronds reserved for pesto
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp dried thyme
1 small pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
3 (14 oz) cans good Italian tomatoes in sauce
2 cups good broth or stock (I used this Parmesan Brodo)
pinch of sugar (optional)
sea salt and black pepper 

Fennel Frond Pesto (recipe below)
Creamy Polenta (make according to package directions) to serve
freshly-grated Parmesan to garnish
fresh basil and good olive oil to garnish
Heat olive oil and butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and fennel and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Add garlic, fennel seeds, thyme and crushed red pepper flakes if using and cook another 2 to 3 minutes more.

Pulse tomatoes in the blender until they are a chunky sauce. Add this sauce and broth to the vegetable. Bring soup to a simmer and allow to simmer away gently for about 30 minutes so flavors can meld and soup thickens slightly. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. 

While soup cooks, make polenta according to package instructions and Fennel Frond Pesto (recipe below).

To Serve Layered: Place a scoop of polenta into a shallow soup bowl, flattening it out and making a indentation in the center with the back of a spoon. Ladle soup on top of polenta. Drizzle the top with Fennel Frond Pesto, a little good olive oil, and grated Parmesan cheese, and scatter some fresh basil on top. Serve immediately.

Fennel Frond Pesto
Slightly Adapted from The New York Times
(Makes about 2/3 Cup) 

1 heaping cup fennel fronds, roughly chopped
2 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp slivered almonds
(I added 2 Tbsp lemon juice)
1/2 tsp sea salt
(I added 1/2 tsp black  pepper)
1/4-1/3 cup olive oil

Combine the fennel fronds, garlic, almonds, lemon juice and salt in a food processor or blender and pulse until the mixture is chopped up. Drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture reaches desired consistency, scraping the sides of the blender or food processor as needed.   

Serve pesto at once, store in the fridge for up to a week or freeze up to one month.   

Notes/Results: I am such a fennel fan and this soup makes the most of the flavor with the seeds, the bulb and the fronds all adding texture and flavor. I find the pairing of tomato and fennel to be one of my favorites with the tomato's sweetness a great contrast to the cooling fennel. Definitely save your fronds and make pesto--it was delicious and would be great with fish, pasta, or thinned out as a salad dressing. So good! I don't know that this is my prettiest soup but it was delicious and I would happily make it again.

The deadline for this Cook the Books round is this Thursday, March 31st, and Simona will be rounding up the entries at the CTB site shortly after. If you missed out on this round and like books, food, and foodie books, consider joining us for April/May when I will be hosting with my pick, the fun foodie memoir; Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn. Hope you join us!

A Place at the Table is my fifth entry for the Foodies Read 2016 event. You can check out the March Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what everyone is reading this month.  

Here's a recap of the delicious dishes from last week's Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays roundup. Yep, Souper Sundays is  back with a new format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads or sandwiches and a recap of some of the entries the following week. (If you are not familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.)

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor shared Minestrone Soup and says, "You'll notice the soup doesn't have the identifiable macaroni noodles floating around. There is a reason for that and I learned another lesson in the kitchen through cooking with gluten free noodles. When I make mac and cheese using gluten free noodles the product stays intact. But dumping a handful into a slow cooker breaks then down to their basic elements - rice flour and corn. It looks like white grits with all the usual Minestrone ingredients. It was still delicious and we've had it twice this week for work lunches. The texture was a surprise though."

Sue of Couscous & Consciousness made a delectable Shaved Sprout Salad with Figs and Hazelnuts noting, "Actually this was the first time I'd ever eaten brussels sprouts raw - won't be the last!  This salad packed plenty of great flavours, and lots of interesting textures - certainly delivers enough on both fronts to potentially get this one past even those who claim to hate sprouts.  I was very happy to make a meal out of this and would certainly make it again.  The other great thing about this salad, unlike a lettuce salad, is that it's not going to go all "wilty" on you, making this perfect to pack up and take outdoors for a picnic or barbecue."

Kim of Stirring the Pot made Ellie Krieger's Tuscan Lentil and Macaroni Salad saying, "Whole-grain pasta and green lentils are the heart of this salad. Whisk up a light and refreshing Dijon vinaigrette; toss in some carrots, artichokes, and tomatoes and you will have one delightful pasta salad that is perfect for picnics and/or packing in mason jars for your lunch. I think this salad would be equally delicious with white beans in place of lentils.  I also think some black olives would make a nice addition."

Joyce of Joy 'N' Escapade shared this Roast Chickpeas & Vegetables Salad and says, "After braving through last week's doom and gloom, I'm feeling super ambitious this week! I want to cook a dish that can satisfy the requirements of four blog hops. Yes, FOUR! Hahaha!" She served her salad with Honey Roasted Chicken and called the meal "an explosion of colors, tastes, and textures.

Thanks to everyone who linked up last week!

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month but we'll take older posts too.) on the picture link below (for the current week) and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you.
On your entry post (on your blog):
  • please mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post.
  • you are welcome to add the wonderful Souper Sundays logo (created by Ivy at Kopiaste) to your post and/or blog (optional).

Have a happy, healthy week!



  1. I love fennel too Deb and you were much kinder about this author than I LOL> He made my blood boil...but your soup would sooth my soul.

  2. Thanks to Tina for reminding me to link my CTB post soup up today! Deb, yours sounds like there's a lot of tasty flavor going on with yours!

  3. Deb, I must try fennel one day. I haven't! *gasp*

  4. I haven't bought fennel in a while but now I want to, great photos, makes my mouth water.

  5. Hi Deb,
    I have linked up! Thanks!
    My family is not a fan of fennel bulbs too. But I will probably give it another try one of these days. Your soup looks great over the polenta, again, polenta is something that I have not tried. I was hunting for it the last few weeks and could not find any!

  6. I am a fennel fan so would gladly take seconds of your soup. Interestingly enough, my mother never cooked it: we had fennel salad often and also often just fresh fennel at the end of the meal. I was an adult by the time I tasted fennel gratin, one of my favorite dishes. She prepared cardoons when in season, a vegetable still hard to find in the US. Thank you for your contribution to this edition of Cook the Books.

  7. That meal has my mouth watering! And what a fabulous use for those fennel fronds. I always hate to waste them. Eeeek, shades of Pellegrini.

  8. Your soup looks delicious! I've never had fennel before, but I've always wanted to try it!

  9. i just love fennel -- how in the world do you find it where you live anyway?

    1. It actually is pretty easy to find here and I am pretty lucky in that one of our grocery stores carries locally grown fennel too when I can't get the farmers market! ;-)


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