Inspiration can strike in the most unexpected places. I’ve been locked out of my kitchen the past couple of days, waiting for the first, then second, coat of new stain on the floor to dry/cure. Staying completely out is a more difficult thing than I imagined. Saving grace is that it is possible to get into the fridge by standing on the edge of the carpet and reaching waaaaay over. So I’ve been able to get into paté de campagne I’d just purchased. (What? I didn’t say I was suffering.)
Still, most meals have been take-out or restaurant dine-in. So headed to a local diner/grill, a place known mostly for its burgers and draft beers and was surprised to see Cream of Fennel Soup among the daily specials. Cream of Fennel? Never seen that one before, and I don’t think it was going over big with the wings-and-burgers crowd lining up at the counter. The server didn’t even mention it. But I was intrigued enough to pass up fries as my side of choice.
This version was a deliciously rich, yet had the palate-cleansing freshness of fennel, and something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Asked the waiter to find out what had gone into it and got a coy reply from the kitchen: fennel, onions, chicken stock, cream and spices. Ah yes, it’s always the secret spices. But what were they?
A little research and deduction leads me to believe that the “spices” might be tarragon or a shot of anise/licorice-flavored liqueur. Makes sense with the anise flavor of fennel. But there was also a somewhat caramelized depth of flavor to the fennel, which may have come from roasting before being added, or perhaps a slow, in-the-soup pot caramelization with the onions. (Could that last bit have been just an accident on the part of the cook? Stockpot left to brown a little too long on the burner?)
The trials will commence when I can finally get back into the kitchen. Meanwhile, paté anyone?