I had a perfect birthday. This year, it was on a Sunday and I was on vacation. I slept in, watched some Olympics, ate a Japanese hot dog, went shopping, toured the Vancouver Aquarium, took a nap and was taken out to a most fabulous dinner at Parkside. As with most meals on our Pacific Northwest adventure, Parkside is all about fresh, seasonal ingredients. Everything, including the wine, was responsibly farmed and delicious. The dishes themselves were simple, but interesting. For my appetizer, I had a very memorable chilled fennel soup topped with Dungeness crab, avocado and grapefruit. I knew I had to try to imitate it and noted as many ingredients as I could identify on my trusty iPhone.
I think I did an admirable job, though I definitely suffered from a lack of awesomely fresh crab. It’s just the wrong coast, I suppose. Next time, I think a juicy hunk of Florida Lobster tail will make a nice substitute for the crab, and is much more appropriate for the area. But the soup itself was Miami perfection. Light, refreshing and chilly enough to cool you off after a long, hot day on the beach.
Note: Where’s the crab in the picture? It sunk. I recommend using more shallow bowls if you’re trying for a nice presentation…
2 fennel bulbs (plus some stalks), roughly chopped
4 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock
2 tsp. cornstarch
3 oz. cream
6 oz. crab meat (or 1 – 2 cooked lobster tails, or 8 steamed jumbo shrimp)
a few red ruby grapefruit sections
1 avocado sliced
1 tbsp. truffle oil (or olive oil)
Place the fennel and stock in a large pot over medium heat. Cover and let the stock come to a gentle boil. Let cook for 20 minutes, or until the fennel pieces are tender and the stock tastes subtly of it. Using an immersion blender (or food processor), blend the contents of the pot until smooth.
Place a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl and begin ladeling the blended soup into it, using a wooden spoon to push the liquid out of the sieve. You want to remove the fibrous pieces of fennel and leave a silky, smooth soup. This may take some time, just work in small batches.
Once the soup has been strained, add it back to the pot and return to a gentle boil. Add the cornstarch and cream and continue to boil for 5 minutes, or until the soup has thickened a bit and begun to reduce.
Remove from heat and chill in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. Ladle soup into a shallow bowl, then top with some crab, avocado and grapefruit. Use a spoon to carefully drizzle a bit of truffle oil over the top and serve.
Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as a light entree.