It snowed in Las Vegas! I'm talking real, actual flakes from the sky. We usually are subjected, in true Vegas form, to the fake stuff, generated to create holiday scapes that often end up looking like they have been coated with Tide.
This was by no means a blizzard. The total accumulation might have been enough to build one very small snowman, that is if it had actually stuck around long enough. Recent temperatures in the 70s ensured that the ground was much too warm to maintain that thin white coat.
Having grown up on the east coast, I always find the locals' reactions to rarities such as rain or snow to be quite humorous. The radio and TV stations are abuzz with accident reports, as it seems that everyone has suddenly forgotten how to drive. People start snapping photos of their backyard winter wonderlands and emailing them to all of their friends and relatives (see exhibit A, below from my husband's co-worker.) Children begin to wonder what exactly constitutes a snow day. And the grocery stores sell out of things like hot cocoa.
Despite the fact that the snowfall is already a distant memory, its brief visit was still enough to inspire me to turn on the "all Christmas carols, all the time" radio station and whip up some hearty, healthy, and comforting batches of soup in the kitchen. The first one that I made was a very filling, but surprisingly healthy smooth fennel and chicken sausage combination. Fennel has been a common ingredient in my kitchen this year. While I don't necessarily care for its licorice-like taste when it is raw, I adore it roasted, sauteed, and caramelized. The addition of healthy sausage and a crouton that has been topped with a bit of melted cheese really makes this soup a meal. Here are some extra tips for making this hearty but healthy soup (see soup #2 next post):
- So that they don't go to waste, I like to save the fennel fronds (the wispy green ends) for seasoning things like roasted vegetables, frittatas, pilafs, etc. You can also add some to the finished bowls of soup for garnish. Store them in the refrigerator in zip-top bags.
- This soup can be refrigerated for up to 4 days in an air-tight container.
- I found great sundried-tomato and basil chicken sausage links at Trader Joe's, but if you cannot find chicken sausage, use turkey sausage instead. You can also use regular sausage, but of course then the soup won't be as light!
- Instead of using Gruyere, which has a nutty flavor, for the croutons, try using smoked Gouda, Fontina, or goat cheese.
Fennel and Chicken Sausage Soup with Gruyere Croutons
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 pound herbed chicken sausage links
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 fennel bulbs, halved, cored, and thinly sliced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
6 cups chicken stock
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 inch thick baguette slices
6 ounces Gruyere cheese, finely shredded
In the same saucepan, cook the onion over medium heat until softened, 4-5 minutes. Add the fennel and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and simmer over medium-low heat until the fennel is very tender, about 45 minutes. Add the zucchini, cover, and simmer over medium heat until barely tender, about 3 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs.
Using an immersion blender, or working in two batches in a standard blender, puree the soup until smooth. Return the soup to the saucepan (if using a standard blender.) Thinly slice the sausage and add it to the soup. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 500F degrees. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet and top them with half of the cheese. Bake until the cheese melts. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the toasts. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on the soup and serve.