Serve this Hearty Soup as a Starter or a Main Course
You’ve probably seen fennel in the produce department at your local supermarket. It’s a bulbous plant with stalks maybe a foot long, and topped with feathery green foliage. Here in the US, not many cooks use it. Too bad, because fennel has a great, distinctive flavor that combines well with other ingredients.
If fennel is new to you — or you haven’t used it for a while — why not try some in this terrific soup? January is the time of the year when many of us determine to eat healthier, and there’s nothing healthier than eating your veggies. And the more veggies you know how to use, the more likely you are to eat them.
That’s logic, isn’t it?
Recipe: Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans
Although fennel is a supermarket staple year round, in the US it’s most prevalent during the cooler months — beginning in fall, and continuing through winter. So now is a good time to buy it.
Sometimes fennel is sold with the green tops removed — although given a choice, I always like to buy it with the tops intact. Those hair-like green fronds make a great garnish, and offer good flavor. When buying fennel, look for bright green tops. The bulbs should not have brown spots and should be firm when pressed with your thumb. Avoid plants that look dried out or seem mushy when pressed.
Although many fennel soup recipes feature potatoes, we’re using beans in ours. Because fennel combines well with seafood, we’re also adding shrimp. If you prefer, you could substitute chunks of a firm fleshed fish, or leave out the seafood component altogether. This recipe is adapted from one I found in James Peterson’s Splendid Soups; the original didn’t call for shrimp.
This recipe serves 6 to 8 as a first course, 3 or 4 as a main course. If serving this as a main, you’ll probably want to augment the meal with bread and perhaps a salad. Preparation time is about 10 minutes, cooking time another 30 minutes.
- 1 large or 2 medium fennel bulbs, plus green tops (you want about a pound — or close to 2 cups — of cleaned and diced fennel bulb; discard the stalk, or use it for soup stock)
- 1 medium onion cut into fine dice (about ¾ cup; don’t stress over exact quantities)
- 4 - 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced or minced
- 2 - 3 teaspoons of pure olive oil (the cheap stuff)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth (you can substitute water, although the flavor won’t be quite as good)
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme or dill, or a tablespoon if fresh (or use another green herb of your choice)
- 1 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes, drained
- 1 15-ounce can cannellini or Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained (or substitute about 2 cups of dried beans that you’ve previously prepared using your favorite recipe)
- ¾ to 1 pound deveined shrimp, preferably 26 - 30 to the pound (fresh or frozen; you can substitute another size if you prefer – see Notes)
- 1 or 2 tablespoons of Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur (very optional, but tasty)
- Rinse off the fennel and remove the stalk and green tops. Roughly chop the green fuzzy fronds, and reserve them for garnish. Using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, slice off the root end of the bulb. Cut or peel off the outer part of the bulb if it’s tough. Dice the fennel bulb by cutting it in half through the poles (lengthwise). Then cut into dice of ½ inch or a bit less (I dice each half as I would an onion).
- Peel the onion and cut into dice of about ¼ inch.
- Peel the garlic cloves and slice or mince.
- Heat a frying pan, preferably nonstick, on medium-high. When hot, add the oil, then the chopped fennel bulb, onion, and garlic. Turn heat down to medium, add salt and pepper to taste, and sauté until the onion just begins to turn translucent (about 5 minutes).
- Meanwhile, put the broth into a pot with a capacity of 4 quarts or so, and bring to a simmer.
- When the fennel and onion mixture is ready, add to the broth. Add the dried thyme (or other herb), and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes (until the veggies soften).
- Meanwhile, if using shrimp that need to be deveined, do so now. If using shell-on shrimp, you can either shell now, or let your guests shell them at table — your choice. I often use frozen shrimp for this recipe (see Notes), and generally buy the headless ones that have been partially shelled (the tail section still has its shell).
- Add the beans, tomatoes, and shrimp and simmer for 10 minutes more (see Notes regarding the shrimp; you may want to wait a few minutes before adding them).
- Taste the soup, and adjust seasonings. If you want more anise flavor, add the optional Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur.
- Serve with a sprinkle of the chopped green fennel tops.
- You can use cooked or uncooked shrimp for this recipe, either fresh or frozen. In many parts of the country, “fresh” shrimp actually arrive at the market in a frozen state — so I usually just buy frozen. It’s often higher quality anyway if it’s IQF (individually quick frozen). IQF shrimp is “blast frozen” soon after it’s been harvested, so most of its flavor remains intact.
- If using fresh shrimp, you’ll probably want to devein it (that dark line that runs across the top of the shrimp is its intestinal tract, or “vein”). If you’re buying fresh shrimp, I assume you know how to deal with them, but I’ll briefly recap the procedure: I always buy fresh shrimp in the shell, with the heads attached. So first pull off the head and legs. Then starting at the end where the head was, pull off the outer shell (I usually leave the bit at the tail end attached). Then to devein, I use a small knife and cut a slit down the shrimp’s back, maybe ¼ inch deep or so. You’ll see a black line (the vein). I use the knife to remove it.
- Fresh, uncooked shrimp will take about 5 minutes to cook. If you put them in the pot with 10 minutes to go (as suggested in Step 8) they’ll be slightly overcooked, but I find it doesn’t matter that much in this recipe.
- If using frozen uncooked shrimp (that have been deveined), throw them in at the 10-minutes-before-done mark, as directed in Step 8.
- If you’re using frozen cooked shrimp (the kind you’ll often buy for shrimp cocktails), they’ll thaw out in 3 to 4 minutes, so I usually throw them in near the end of the cooking time (they’re already cooked, so you just want to dethaw and warm them). Again, if you put them in at the 10-minutes-to-go mark, they’ll be somewhat overdone, but not so much that it matters a great deal in this recipe.
- BTW, I often use frozen cooked shrimp. The flavor is not as good as the uncooked, but if you’re using it in a dish with a sauce (or in a soup like this), I don’t notice much difference.
- If at all possible, buy shrimp that were harvested from the Gulf of Mexico. They have the best flavor IMO.
- If you use shrimp that have been peeled but still have the shell attached to the tail (and are a fairly large size) it’s probably easiest to just pick them up with your fingers to eat them. Too messy? Use smaller shrimp, or cut larger shrimp into pieces before cooking.
- Fennel, like coriander, is both a herb and a vegetable.
- You may have seen fennel seed in the spice aisle of the supermarket. It looks something like anise seed (although smaller), and has a similar licorice-like flavor. Fennel seed is often used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, and provides the distinctive flavor in some Italian sausages.
- In addition to combining extremely well with shrimp and seafood, fresh fennel is also good with chicken, and terrific with pork.
- Fennel is said to cleanse the palate and aid digestion. For this reason, some Indian restaurants serve fennel seeds at the end of the meal. Sometimes Italians (particularly Sicilians) serve raw fennel (the bulb, cut into wedges) for a similar purpose.
- Socrates reportedly advised consuming a stalk of fennel and glass of water as a cure for a night of overeating.
- Fennel is called finocchio in Italian, fenouil in French, Fenchel in German, and hinojo in Spanish. But in any language, it’s good stuff.
Food of the Gods
Fennel played a notable role in the culture of ancient Greece. According to Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus used a giant fennel stalk to steal fire from the gods for the benefit of humans (seriously annoying Zeus in the process). Dionysus, the god of wine (and frenzied madness), was often portrayed holding a stalk of fennel. Fennel stalks also formed the shaft of the thyrsus, a sacred implement used in religious ceremonies, symbolizing fertility and prosperity.
In ancient Greek, fennel was called marathos. The town of Marathon was located in a field of fennel, and took its name from the plant. It was at Marathon that a small army of Athenians, though greatly outnumbered, fought off a large invading Persian force in 490 BCE.
They must have been eating their veggies.
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Lovely! I love to throw fennel into stock, it adds a sweetness that rounds out the flavors. Perfect for mid-winter!
Hi Alanna, very good point about how wonderful fennel can be in stock. I haven't often used fennel when I've made stock in the past, but recently it's become almost mandatory. Thanks for the comment.
This sounds like a wonderful combination. Light and hearty with great flavor and perfect for the diet! Thanks for something new!
I see you're still serving up some delicious hearty goodness, Kitchen. I just bought some beautiful fennel bulbs at Trader Joe's. Now I know exactly what to do with them!
Thank you so much for sharing AND, Happy New Year to You and Mrs. Kitchen:)
P.S. Luv the fennel history tidbits too...
I am dreaming about fresh shrimps :) And I like your recipe, my taste buds got wild, hahaha.
That whole dish looks like food of the gods :) Beautiful, tantalizing photos!
This looks great John. I am thinking about growing fennel this year in my veggie patch and this would be a great way to use it. Yum.
What a beautiful looking soup - it looks more like a meal! I love fennel and you are right - I always buy the fennel with the green tops because the little fronds do make a beautiful garnish. I like to make a fennel and orange salad - perfect for when fennel is in season and the little green tips look very pretty on top of the orange. I'll have to try fennel in soup! xx
Here in Italy you can find fennel
easely at local markets.
I have actually never used it but your recipe
looks so tasty and healthy that I'll try!
Thanks for the tips you included! Very interesting and awesome recipe!
This looks deliciously healthy. I love fennel but prefer it raw, dipped into a good olive oil with a little salt. Italians eat a lot of it that way. Prawns are a big favourite in our household but I would put back the potatoes and remove the beans for digestive reasons. Lovely photos.
Hi Abbe, it's really a great dish! And excellent, healthy eating for January! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Louise, good to see you again! You'll enjoy this dish - it has such nice flavor. Happy New Year to you, and thanks for your comment.
Hi Marta, yeah, I dream about fresh shrimps sometimes too! ;-) A real favorite. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Maureen, it is indeed food for the gods. ;-) Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
Hi Lizzie, great idea to grow your own - I've been thinking along those lines, too. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Charlie, I've had fennel and orange salads before - they can be awesome! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Daniela, I've always heard that fennel is quite popular in Italy, particularly in Sicily (but really everywhere). Definitely worth trying. Thanks for commenting.
Hi Talaia, glad you enjoyed this! Thanks for the comment.
I just love soups during the winter! This looks great =) Ack the word "marathon" scares me right now, I have a half-marathon coming up soon!! Fun facts, though.
Hi Suzanne, it is totally healthy. This would be good with potatoes instead of beans (or you could leave them out, although a bit of starch is nice in this dish). Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
Hi Kristi, I hope you're training for your half-marathon is going well! This is a terrific soup, and perfect for your training table. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
John, that is a lovely soup and it happens that I love-love fennel (no surprise there, right? you know that I love dill, and this two are very close "friends"). Too bad it's not available here in bulbs, so all we can eat are seeds, which I generously add to any soups I cook.
About the shrimps. Do you remove it's head before cooking? Please, save all the heads for me, it is the most delicious part of the shrimps! :)
Soups, soups - I love them! I never cook with fennel - it's somewhat of an unknown territory that I want to conquer. And I have fresh shrimp, which was delivered fresh but I have frozen it since.
Fennel is magic with shrimp. I can practically taste how good this soup is. And since I haven't had dinner yet, I sure wish I could REALLY taste it now. ;)
I am loving this soup. Sounds and looks really tasty!
Hi Marina, I agree the heads have some nice flavor, but I usually save the heads and shells, and make stock. And I figured you'd like this recipe - just the flavor you enjoy! Thanks for your comment.
Hi Julia, we used to live in Florida and got gorgeous fresh shrimp - hours from the water. We're living in St. Louis now, and I'll sometimes buy it fresh, but I really prefer the frozen simply because of quality questions. Anyway, do give fennel a try sometime - it's delish. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Carolyn, isn't fennel and shrimp a great combo? I have a pasta dish that combines these two that I should post sometime. Sorry to make you hungry! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dawn, it's really good. Pretty healthy, too - perfect for this time of the year! Thanks for your comment.
I think I put fennel in a dish at least once a month. I love it! I've never used it with seafood, but that is going the change. I love this soup! What a great base and then the shrimp - perfect! And Gulf of Mexico shrimp no less. You are right - there are no better shrimp nor oyster than those from the Gulf! Thanks for a great soup!
Hi MJ, fennel really has such a great flavor, doesn't it? You'll be totally be smitten when you pair it with seafood, trust me. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I am a big fan of fennel, especially in soups. Printing this out!
A great looking bowl of soup, John. I would definitely keep the seafood in it -- maybe add a little more. I could see, though, where it would be just fine without any seafood. These vegetables can stand on their own.
Oddly enough, my family never cooked fennel. Never. Although not Sicilian, we, too, ate it raw in wedges with a dipping sauce along side. I was the first to cook with it, serving Mom & Zia sea bass baked with finnocchio when they visited me here.
A fantastic recipe and post, John. Thanks.
What a gorgeous soup! I've used anise liqueur in a shrimp appetizer, so I know this combo is outstanding!
I like how you garnished your soup with the fennel tops. Soup looks so healthy and delicious!
Delicious! I love fennel and use it a lot in cooking. It goes especially good with seafood. I'm like you...I like to add a little Pernod as well.
I love fennel and the shrimp would be a wonderful complement to the soup, offering a hearty bite along with the healthy vegetables and broth. Very yummy!
Hi Alyssa, I agree fennel is a standout in soup, though it's also quite good braised or in salads. Thanks for the comment.
Hi John, I know a couple of recipes for sea bass (or stripped bass) with fennel - such good stuff! I could definitely see adding a bit more shrimp, or more likely I'd add some scallops or mussels - give the dish a bit more interest that way. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Lizzy, there's something about shrimp and anise that just works! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Bam, the fennel tops are gorgeous, don't you think? Plus they have nice flavor. I know a recipe that uses the fennel tops alone, although when I make it I always include some of the bulb, too. I'll definitely have to post that someday. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Karen, the Pernod really helps boost the anise flavor, doesn't it? It's a great veggie, and quite healthy. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Judy, isn't fennel such great stuff? And anyone who tastes it combined with shrimp is going to fall in love with it, I think. Thanks for the comment.
Love this soup, John! I feel like I can almost grab those vibrant shrimp out of my screen. Amazing shots! Thank you, John.
Hi Ray, it's a great soup! You'll love it. Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
I love fennel! This is such a great use for it. And, all those colors in the soup look fantastic.
Hi Lisa, isn't this a pretty soup? Makes it even more fun to eat. Thanks for the comment.
The only recipe I ever use fennel in is Thanksgiving stuffing. This would be a great way to branch out!
I finally tried fennel a few years ago. I love it in cold salads, so refreshing and delicious! I love the idea of adding it in a soup, what a delicious flavor addition to your gorgeous soup! Take care, Terra
Hi Beth, I love the idea of fennel in stuff! I've actually tasted it before but totally forgotten about it. Something I have to try. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Terra, fennel is great in salads, but also terrific cooked. I'll have another fennel recipe next week. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I've only used fennel once, to admittedly disastrous results (I didn't know where to begin!). However, I think I may try to use it again--plus I might've seen Giada eating some raw on her show, and got inspired to do the same. Guess I'll have to bookmark this one!
A refined and suculent tasting soup! Fennel is a great addition. I could eat that for breakfast too. ;-)
I really love fennel! I usually don't have shrimp in soup's but it sounds like a good idea!
Hi Ala, eating it raw is a great way to begin! And it's how a lot of Italians regularly eat it. But it's also great cooked, too. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Rosa, truth be told, I can eat almost anything for breakfast! I don't often do soups, but I wonder why not? Maybe that should be my New Year's Resolution! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Natalie, this soup is quite good without the shrimp, but it really does add some nice flavor and interest. Plus it looks so nice! Thanks for the comment.
Fennel is one of those flavors that I've really grown to love - especially paired with seafood! This sounds really delicious =)
Hi Peggy, fennel + seafood = magic. ;-) Great combo. Thanks for the comment.
I don't often use fennel, and it's a shame because it's always affordable and tastes fantastic. I just don't think about it. This is truly a different soup and a must try for sure. I have the shrimp, all I need is fennel.
Hi Kristi, fennel is truly good stuff - I don't use it enough either. And you'll love this soup! It fits well into the sort of meals you usually do. Thanks for the comment.
Gorgeous soup; looks delicious! I have never eaten shrimp in soup and I have definitely missed out. I love this entire recipe and the fennel looks divine!
Hi Judy, this is a terrific recipe. There are actually quite a few soups (or soup-like dishes, like gumbo) that use shrimp, so there's a whole world of good stuff out there for you to try! Thanks for the comment.
I love the texture and fragrance of fennel bulb and I almost always put it in the soup. I was worried if kids would eat it at the beginning but they must have my gene, they love it! I'm thinking of making your soup this week since I have 2 fennel blubs in the fridge (it's soup season after all ;) ). Thank you John for the recipe!
Can I have 2 servings for me please :)
Great looking soup! I've never really eaten fennel as I'm not a fan of the licorice flavour but I think with all of the other ingredients in this soup, it wouldn't be too overpowering.
Hi Nami, this soup has a nice, balanced flavor that I'll bet your kids would like. No one flavor overwhelms in the soup, but the combo of ingredients is awesome. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Raymund, only 2? ;-) Coming right up! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Ali, when cooked, fennel mellows out considerably. Still a hint of the flavor, but when combined with other ingredients it becomes rather pleasant. Thanks for your comment.
What a gorgeous looking soup! I would love to make a vegetarian version :) Thanks for sharing this recipe!
Hi Christine, it's really a tasty soup! And this would be great as a vegetarian version (obviously you'd lose the shrimp - and although it has good flavor and eye appeal, the flavor of the soup is more than good enough without the shrimp). Thanks for the comment.
The first time I had fennel was about a year and a half ago :) It's weird - I'm ok with it and will use it in dishes and eat it, but I also don't try to seek out recipes using it like, omg I must make something with fennel lol. I think I'd be all aboard on this soup though - so hearty and I like that you used beans with that bit of thyme to match it.
Hi Food Jaunts, try fennel with fish or shellfish sometime - it's a perfect match (pretty good with pork and chicken too). But if fennel doesn't float your boat, it just doesn't. This soup is really worth having, though. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
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