My older sister and her husband will be stopping by this week end. I want to make a nice dinner for them. I decided that my sweet pepper and fennel soup would be a good start.
I made this soup last week and though the table consensus was that this was a really good soup, I thought I could make it better. Eilene had complained that it “needed more tomatoes” (hint: there were no tomatoes, only red peppers). This time I am adding tomatoes and some tomato and anchovy paste to boost the umami.
The last time, I had simply rolled the Italian sausage into half inch balls. While tasty, they were a bit dense. A bit of vegetable and some bread crumbs will make the meatballs tenderer. Looking on-line I also found a secret ingredient that I plan to try, lots of water. I also thought that if I brushed the meat with some sugared oil it might allow the meatballs to brown more quickly while they were under the broiler.
Since I am out of peppers I plan to use sweet red peppers from the farmer’s market. I also decided that one can of beans was not quite enough for the amount of soup this recipe produced. Finally, I decided that I should reserve some of the onion to add after the blending to make the soup chunkier.
After Dinner Note: While the drunken salmon was good, this soup was a true master piece. Everyone went back for seconds. The meatballs were tender and the soup well balanced between creamy base and crunch vegetables. Next week Jan has requested bouillabaisse for her birthday. I usually use a jar of red pepper spaghetti sauce as my base for this soup, but this soup base is much better.
Karl’s Sweet Pepper and Fennel Soup with Italian Sausage Meat Balls II
¾ lb. sweet Italian sausage
1 large egg
1 Tbs. Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp. black pepper
¾ cup Panko (dried bread crumbs)
½ cup lukewarm water
1 Tbs. olive oil
½ tsp. sugar
6 large red sweet peppers
1 fresh fennel bulb, coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. butter (or olive oil)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped, separate uses
9 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped, separate uses
2 cans low sodium chicken broth (32oz.)
1 Tbs. thyme
½ tsp. black pepper
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp. anchovy paste
2 cans Cannellini beans (16 oz.)
3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
2 beef steak tomatoes, coarsely chopped
¼+ tsp. cayenne pepper
Pinch Kosher salt
½+ cup half and half or heavy cream (optional), separate uses
½ cup sour cream or yogurt (optional)
1. Put the meat, egg, parsley, 6 cloves garlic, pepper, and Panko into a medium bowl. Chop the ingredients into the meat a bit.
2. Add the warm water and continue to mix the ingredients together.
Tip: The warm water will soften the fat in the sausage making it easier to mix. You may need to use your fingers to get everything thoroughly mixed. The bread crumbs will quickly absorb the water.
3. Cover the bowl with a plate or plastic wrap and let the meat mixture rest for ten minutes.
Tip: You can use this time to prep the vegetables, so that you can put them in when you take the meatballs out.
4. Roll the sausage in to one half tablespoon balls, about half an inch in diameter.
Tip: I used a ½ Tbs. measuring spoon that worked perfectly for this.
5. Mix the olive oil and sugar in a small cup and brush the meatballs lightly with the mixture.
6. Spray Pam on a small baking tray and broil the meat balls for 5 minutes, turning them once during cooking.
Tip: The object here is not to cook the meatballs completely, but to brown them a bit and make them firm enough so that they do not break apart when added to the soup.
7. Cut the peppers in half, seed and de-vein them.
8. Quarter the fennel bulb and brush with butter or olive oil.
9. Lay the peppers skin side up and the fennel cut side up on a shallow baking tray.
10. Broil the vegetables for 10-15 minutes, until well charred.
11. Remove and cool the vegetables slightly.
Tip: Remove the peppers to a plastic bag and seal it. This will steam the peppers and make it easier to remove the tough skins.
12. When cool enough to handle skin the peppers and coarsely chop the peppers and fennel. Reserve the vegetables for later.
13. Melt the butter in a soup pot and sauté the onions until just picking up some color, about 5 minutes.
14. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more, until fragrant.
15. Add the chicken broth, peppers, fennel, thyme, pepper, tomato paste and anchovy paste to the pot. Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
16. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the liquid from the cans of beans and one half of one of the cans of the beans.
Tip: Blending these beans with the vegetables will thicken the soup, but still leave you enough to have whole beans in the final mix.
17. When the soup is cool enough to handle, process in a blender until smooth.
Tip: You may need to do this in batches.
18. Return the soup to the pot and add the rest of the garlic, beans, meat balls, celery, and cayenne pepper.
Tip: I did not originally have cayenne pepper in the recipe, but I was giving tastes of the soup base to my sister and she felt it needed more spice. I decided to add more garlic and cayenne pepper. It was definitely a winner.
19. Bring the pot to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes.
20. Chop and seed the tomatoes and add it to the pot. Cover and simmer for 10 more minutes to finish cooking and meld the flavors.
Tip: Much of the flavor of a tomato is in the jelly surrounding the seeds. Press the jelly through a sieve and add it to the pot.
21. Stir in ½ cup of half and half or heavy cream.
22. Place soup in individual bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.
Tip: I found that the Greek yogurt I was using was too thick. I used a tablespoon of cream to thin it out,
23. Serve with crusty garlic bread and maybe a small spinach salad on the side.