Creamy Chickpea and Fennel Soup with Herbed Garlic + Parmigiano Sourdough Croutons

It’s probably too soon to say for sure, but if the last 7 days are any indication 2016 seems to be the Year of Soup in my kitchen.
Or at least the January of Soup. My trusty 10-quart pot hasn’t had a single day off since the new year began, and I have no intention of stopping any time soon. Over the weekend a recipe for a simple pureed chickpea soup in Lidia Bastianich’s Commonsense Italian Cooking caught my eye, and I decided to try my own riff on it — adding shallots and fennel, fresh herbs, parmigiano rind (my trusty soup secret weapon), and topping each bowl with crunchy sourdough croutons tossed with oregano, thyme, grated parm and garlic powder before heading into the oven.

With the exception of the (optional) parm rind, the soup is free of dairy — its creamy texture is achieved by blending the chickpeas using an immersion blender or stand blender.  No cream or butter needed. (To make dairy-free croutons, substitute an equal amount of nutritional yeast for the grated cheese). The result is a soup that is hearty but not heavy, creamy, and earthy, with subtle herbal tones of fennel, thyme, and rosemary. A new classic.

Creamy Chickpea and Fennel Soup with Herbed Garlic + Parmigiano Sourdough Croutons
Serves 4

For the soup:
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1/2 bunch fresh parsley, leaves roughly chopped and stems reserved for bouquet garni
extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 shallot, diced
1/2 fennel bulb, diced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
3 cups cooked chickpeas
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 dried bay leaf
2-inch piece of parmigiano or grano padano rind (optional)
kosher salt
pinch of red chile flakes
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup thinly sliced chives, to garnish

Tie together thyme, rosemary, and parsley stems with kitchen twine.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, shallot, and fennel, and cook until vegetables start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir around for another minute. Add chickpeas, stock, bay leaf, cheese rind, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and pinch of red chile flakes. Simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Turn off heat and remove bouquet garni, bay leaf, and cheese rind. Puree soup using an immersion blender or in small batches in a stand blender. Add lemon juice and season to taste with salt if needed. Serve garnished with parsley, chives, a drizzle of olive oil, and croutons (recipe follows).

For the croutons:
2 cups day-old crusty sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons grated parm, grana padano or pecorino
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 350F.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to evenly coat bread cubes with seasonings. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake until croutons are lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring and rotating pan halfway through.

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