I had a fennel bulb and a bunch of asparagus knocking around in the cooler and decided they'd anchor a lovely vegetable soup. Rather minestrone-esque, thick with garlic and tomatoes and a little whole-grain pasta for body. Carrots, onions, and celery of course. A handful of spinach too - why not? With a swirl of pesto to finish, bursting with layers of hearty flavor.
I gave the vegetables a long, slow saute, going for maximum caramelization for the deepest flavor. Here's a rough recipe (please improvise freely).
Hearty Vegetable Soup
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 fennel bulb (white part only), cored, exterior layer discarded, quartered, and sliced thin
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 large celery stalk, sliced thin
6-7 mushrooms, diced
1/2 tsp. each dried thyme, sage, and oregano
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2 c. canned cannelini beans (optional)
1 quart (32 oz.) chicken (or vegetable) stock
1/2 c. whole-grain elbow macaroni
1 bunch asparagus, top halves only, cut into 1/2” pieces
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
pesto (I used Whole Foods brand)
Drizzle oil into a large soup pot. Add vegetables and herbs, and a sprinkle of salt, and sauté over medium heat until vegetables start to soften. Cover, turn heat to low, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are very tender and becoming caramelized, about 15-25 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and stock, bring to a simmer, turn heat to low, and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes. Add macaroni (and beans, if using) and simmer for another 10 minutes. Stir in asparagus and spinach, simmer for a minute or two, then ladle into bowls. Garnish with 1 tsp. pesto. (A few croutons would be delicious too.) Serves 4-6.