Friday, January 27, 2017

Creamy Tomato-Fennel Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

So. These are strange days—trying to balance outrage and action and also the joy in resistance, in daily life, without which what even is the point? 

We marched in DC, and it was magic. I can hardly even talk about it. It's like a beloved's photograph in the locket of my heart.

Our congresspeople’s numbers are all in my phone, and I am calling their DC and local offices to express concern about whatever feels most pressing on any given day. I am following the alternative Twitter accounts of our country’s custodians of science. Less nobly, I am hoping that this half an onion in a bag gets more Twitter followers than Trump.

I have never loved Michael more.
Also, we are laughing at every opportunity. We are sleeping with cats. I am putting down my phone to greet the children when they get home from school. We are eating warmly and well. Like this soup, which is extremely delicious. If butterfat troubles you, don’t make it, okay? I mean, if you’re vegan, feel free to swap in alternative products—you could definitely do something great with cashew cream at the end here. But if the fat itself is a worry, make something else, because the fat is necessary. We need to store up fat for the long winter of our coming discontents. This is the plan.

Birdy and I recently ate this soup at Duckfat in Portland, ME, and it blew us away. You can be confident that Duckfat is a wonderful place because, despite the fact that there is almost nothing on the menu our vegetarian girl can eat—there is duck fat in the French fries, in the doughnuts, in the caramel that goes into most of the milkshakes—Birdy always wants to go there. This soup would be reason enough. When we got home, I Googled around, and found the recipe online! I scaled it down a little, but it still makes a lot.

Prettier garnishes. But go with the grilled-cheese croutons, if you can.
Creamy Tomato-Fennel Soup with Grilled-Cheese Croutons
This recipe is adapted from Rob Evans, the chef of Duckfat in Portland, ME. The truth is that I’ve made it with his recommended amount of cream—which, in the scaled-down recipe below, is a full quart—and it’s fantastic that way, if a tad rich. Half that amount of cream is good too, but then the acidity of the tomatoes breaks through a little more, and I’ve found you need to add significantly more sugar to balance it—up to a tablespoon or two or more. Three cups of cream is pretty much the happy medium here. This is not a light soup. But oh, it is so comforting and good. (There are some process shots of soup-making, including quartered and cored fennel, below.)

1 large fennel bulb
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole fennel seed
½ cup white wine
2 (28-ounce cans) peeled whole or crushed tomatoes (I use San Marzano whenever I can)
1 teaspoon (plus) sugar
2-4 cups heavy cream (Try 3 cups. See headnote)
Kosher salt and black pepper
A grilled cheese sandwich, cut into small squares, for garnish

1. Deal with the fennel: trim off the green tops (save some of the feathery fronds for garnish, if you like), then cut the fennel in quarters lengthwise and trim out the core. Now slice the fennel thin (crosswise or lengthwise—it’s all going in the blender later so it doesn’t really matter) by hand, mandolin, or food processor.

2. Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy soup pot and add the fennel, onion, salt, and fennel seeds. Sauté for a minute our two, then cover the pot and “sweat” the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until they have given up a lot of liquid and that liquid has largely cooked off—about 10 minutes.

3. Add the wine and cook, uncovered, until the wine is mostly gone (another few minutes), then stir in the tomatoes and the sugar, bring to a simmer, turn the heat to medium-low, and cover the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

4. Stir in the cream, and simmer another 15 minutes, or until the fennel is very tender. Add a big grinding of pepper.

5. Now puree the soup in a blender, in batches. You know how to do this safely, right? Fill the blender jar only half full, remove the center of the lid and use a dish towel over the hole (this prevents steam building up and blowing the lid off).

6. Strain the soup if you like. This is kind of a fussy step, and it’s not strictly necessary, but it’s quite lovely to have a perfectly smooth puree without little fennely strings and bits of fennel-seed husk.

7. Return the soup to the pot, reheat gently, and taste. You are going to need to add more salt, maybe more sugar, and maybe more cream. You want the soup to taste balanced and delicious. Keep adding and stirring and tasting, even if it feels like it’s taking a long time to get it exactly right.

8. Serve the soup with the grilled-cheese croutons or with a drizzle of cream (or sour cream) and a sprinkle of chopped fennel fronds. 


  1. Marched along with you in Madison, WI. The feeling of solidarity was palpable, and the afterglow of peaceful resistance has not left me! This soup will be on the menu next week. We all need some comfort right now - fennel, food, family, fight!

  2. Marched in Los Angeles --it was a lovely day, and then it has been a very hard week. This soup will help! Thank you. God bless America (and God bless you and your sweet family).

  3. I've had the feeling there's a friend I needed to get in touch with. Things have been crazy here outside Denver, as my twin grandbabies were born earlier this month and then I got too sick to march on the 21st, so I felt like I was already failing them. Luckily other-grandparents were able to march, and I am overall happy to move into the next phase, genealogically and politically. Which means, of course, you were the friend I needed to check in with.

  4. I thought Ben was Micheal in one picture. Slow down with the growing already! (Which is also what I'm thinking as I watch my 10 year old grow before my eyes.)

  5. I was so happy to see the pictures from the march. I love your sign so much; it made me choke up, which is how I measure love. Cats. Soup. Good stuff.

  6. Anonymous2:36 PM

    Watching you all in the US with horror - and sympathy - from Germany. This is the loophole of democracy, the fairness that is trampled on by a narcissist with self-obsessed grandeur and a whole team of henchmen. It is all horribly, disturbingly, creepingly ominous, and Germany, of all countries, recognizes that it has seen this kind of "leadership" before. The propoganda machine is gearing up. So glad you marched; please, please keep it up, all of you - resist! Look after yourselves and each other, we are with you.

    I dug out your lovely chocolate cake recipe this week for comfort. You know, the one with the cup of expresso in, which makes me feel guilty for about 3 seconds about feeding the kids caffeine. It is the best chocolate cake ever! In the worst week in a long time. :(

    Sending love and support from far away,

  7. Kristen3:03 PM

    The first time we ate at Duckfat I did the exact same thing - googled and found this recipe. It's delicious and WELL worth the fat! Thank you for reminding me of it!

  8. Gah I love that new baby kitty of yours!!! And I love the march pics! I have been checking here everyday to see if you had posted some. I also follow the half onion in a bag on Twitter...sometimes little things like that are just necessary for the comic relief! ;)

  9. Anonymous5:26 PM

    I seriously thought that Ben was Michael in the first photo. Can't get over how much your kids have grown! If you are ever around suburban NY, please visit Art Cafe in Nyack. It makes everyone I know- vegan, vegetarian, and casual meat eaters- happy.

  10. Anonymous7:03 PM

    Catherine, I stole "Like his hand could grab a whole pussy" as my sign for the Oakland Women's March. I kept shouting at people - 150% of whom found it awesome and hilarious - that "I stole it from Catherine Newman!" but I'm afraid some of your credit was lost on the winds of loud, funny, uplifting, inspiring RESISTANCE. Thanks for your incredible wonderfulness and also for the sign. Elizabeth in Oakland xo

  11. plazamom7:22 PM

    I was so happy to be marching in Charlotte -- the crowds of thinking, caring, engaged citizens were exactly the antidote I needed for the day after the inauguration. And I loved the feeling of solidarity with women (and men and kids) in marches across the country and all over the world. I thought of you in Washington and am so glad to hear that the experience was everything you hoped it would be!

  12. DUCKFAT. The. Best.

  13. Oooh, love your DC pics. The washington monument coming out of the head is a well loved classic. And you all look fabulous in your hats! I went to my local march (Santa Rosa, CA), which was wonderful too. I'll try the soup this weekend--still have a couple jars of our garden tomatoes. Why didn't I ever think of grilled cheese croutons?

  14. I've heard Duckfat is good although I haven't eaten there yet. My husband has and he said the fries are delicious!

    I *LOVE* your Fucking Furious sign!!

  15. i marched in DC too. great sign! i also loved TINY HANDS, GIANT A$$HOLE and PATRIARCHY IS FOR DICKS and I'M NOT AN OB/GYN BUT I PLAY ONE IN CONGRESS. xoxo


    I bought this shirt for myself for Christmas and it's one of my new favorites! (Found on a site I learned about through one of your holiday gift guides a few years ago!). I want to buy one for everybody that I know!

    1. I just ordered two! Thanks for the suggestion!

  17. maxanyamom10:32 PM

    I was in DC. I went with my two children and met up with my sister. It was a profound and humbling experience. The crowds were bigger than I had envisioned, and we were in the thick of humanity for a solid 45 minutes (at 12th St & Independence). It was a challenge for all of us, but there were so many beautiful conversations & connections made that helped my children manage their stress in the tight crowd. (I'm thinking of you, sweet Tammy from Georgia!) What an incredible experience. I'd do it again in a heart beat. Much love to you and yours. I'll be making the soup soon. Thank you for your writing. It nourishes me and soothes me and bolsters me for the Resistance!

  18. Marched with friends and university colleagues in Cleveland, and I think we had a mini version of what you all experienced in DC. AND we are having grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner tomorrow (not the same recipe, but still) and have been having the same needy feeling of comfort food. As another reader posted, coming to your site gives me additional comfort right now. Thanks for the consistency and the community feeling you provide.

  19. "It's like a beloved's photograph in the locket of my heart."..."We need to store up fat for the long winter of our coming discontents." YES! Exactly! All of this! I'm sure it must be so annoying to have someone repeat your words back to you, but you have a way of reaching into my heart and mind, then turning what you found there into words on the page. Thank you! I (we!) need you more than ever! I, too, could hardly wait to check in here for funny and reassuring words from a friend. ����

  20. It's lovely to see your whole family marching together! I was out of state for march day so I marched with (mostly) a bunch of strangers in San Antonio. And it was still lovely:).

  21. I marched in L.A., and I've never seen so many people in one place. It kept my spirits up for a few days, and that's not a small thing right now. Even though I know you don't have any more answers than the rest of us right now, it makes me feel better to come here. So, thanks.

  22. Anonymous3:27 PM

    When did Ben become such a hunk o' burnin' love? Lord o'mercy! Love your protest pics and it is wonderful that you went as a family! And thank you for the fabulous recipe :)

  23. I was in DC, too! Flew out from California with a planeload full of pink-hat wearing women. (The clueless guy sitting next to me asked, very seriously, "Is there some kind of convention or something?") It was the only day I've actually felt *good* since Nov. 8. Love that you all went. The soup looks good, but I am actually making your red lentil soup today so the tomato will have to wait for another day. Thank you for all the yummy recipes -- and thank you for joining the resistance!

  24. Writing from Victoria, BC, Canada and the only thing that is preventing me from diving headfirst into bed is the knowledge that that helps exactly no one, and the fact that I even have that as an option is an incredible privilege. I've decided that what I CAN do is make and sell things, and donate the proceeds to the ACLU. I know self-promotion on other people's posts is kind of icky, and I hate doing it, so if you want to delete this comment I totally get it, but if not, I'm including the link to what I'm selling (personalized embroidery/other items). Thank you for making me laugh and making me cry and making me feel totally okay for saying 'fuck' so much. I am so inspired by you and all the other women who are resisting loudly right now.

  25. I was in DC with my 15-yo daughter, my cousin, her 19-yo son and 16-yo daughter, and a college friend of the 19-yo. I wish I'd seen you! That would have made an amazing day even more amazing.

  26. Your sign is my favorite. I'm following 1/2 an onion on Twitter (thanks!). I've programed my phone now, too. I'm buying cookies for my Muslim neighbors this weekend (I don't want them to be afraid to eat homemade cookies, which is the thought that makes me cry the most). xox

  27. Also, I cannot wait to make this soup!

  28. It must be tomato soup season--my youngest made Mollie Katzen's version with the calories-be-damned cheese crisps. My oldest was in DC while I was stuck in Concord, NH. She went largely without opinions and came home an activist, so thank you all you wonderful kind, peaceful DC marchers who welcomed her.

  29. Just catching up on this, and wishing that somehow in the sea of humanity, I'd seen your lovely family at the march! So grateful to have been there. Peace and love...

  30. Laura4:15 PM

    I can't be the only person who cried all the way through your pictures. I love you, too.