Several of my friends are beginning to discover and appreciate the taste of fennel. It is prolific at present in Melbourne and most refreshing eaten raw. It can be cooked – braised, baked, made into a tortino (see recipe in blog tortino di finocchio) and as in this recipe, made into a soup (not a very common way to cook fennel).
Traditionally this recipe should be made with wild fennel and this is how I first tasted this soup.Obviously if this ingredient is not close by, the bulb can be used. If you can collect some wild fennel (make sure it looks healthy, see recipe in blog pasta con le sarde), experiment with this recipe and use both the wild and the cultivated bulb with some of its tender fronds and stalks (choose round, shiny bulbs, as in photo taken in the market of Syracuse).
It is one of the simplest soups to make and when it was first made for me (using wild fennel) all of the vegetables went into a pot with the water and once softened, broken spaghetti were added – soup without pasta is rarely presented. The broken spaghetti were once the way to use them up, by all means use some short, small sout pasta shape.
I am always amazed how Sicilian soups cooked so simply can be so appetising. My relative presented the minestra with a drizzle of the very flavourful oil given to her by a relative in Noto. Maybe the oil is the secret ingredient! Boiled vegetables cooked this way and presented with the water is considered rinfrescante, calming and soothing for the digestive system and very common as the evening meal (Sicilians still eat their main meal at lunch time).
I have intensified the flavours by varying the method of cooking and I sauté the vegetables before adding the liquid, this being a common way to make soup in the north of Italy. I also like to add stock instead of water, but when I cook this version it is no longer traditionally Sicilian.
I also found a version of a recipe for maccu (a very Sicilian soup) made in the Madonie which is very similar but uses wild fennel , dried broadbeans (soaked overnight and peeled) and no potato. The dried broadbeans add a very different taste and as they are floury, also thicken the soup as does the potato.
Photo below in restaurant in Modica.
potatoes 250g, cut into small cubes
onion 1 large
parsley,1cup of chopped
salt and pepper
bulb fennel 1-2 (about 600g), with green top leaves chopped and sliced very finely
tomatoes 3 large peeled, chopped
spaghetti 300 g of broken roughly into little pieces
extra virgin olive oil ½ cup and some quality extra virgin to dribble on top
bay leaves, 2 preferably fresh (optional)
water,1 ½ litres (I use stock)
Add all all the vegetables to the water and proceed as described above.
Saute the onion in the oil until softened.
Add the fennel and potatoes and stir till coated, add about 2 cups of liquid and the bay leaves .
Cover and allow to braise very gently and without drying out for about 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes , parsley, seasoning and the rest of the liquid.
Bring to the boil, add the pasta, stir , cover and allow to cook .
Drizzle with the quality olive oil and sprinkle with fresh black pepper and serve.