I began making this soup with an entirely other recipe in mind, but I ran out of time. I was going to make a puréed soup of white beans and fennel, and stew collard greens on the side (I need a green vegetable). The Man was on his way home from a job in New Jersey, and I was working late but wanted to have dinner on the table for him when he got home. At the last minute I put my immersion blender away and threw the collards into the pot with the soup. I actually prefer soups with whole bites of ingredients in them as opposed to silky purées, particularly if it's my main entrée—I like being able to chew something! So my time crunch made it turn out for the better.
The fennel flavor mellows out when it's cooked, and is tasty with the herbaceous and lemony thyme. And the flavors are all balanced by the richness of the mushrooms, leeks and white beans. And don't forget the greens!
FENNEL WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH MUSHROOMS
4 small cloves garlic, sliced
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 small-medium fennel bulbs, chopped
2 leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned and sliced into half-moons, divided
3 tablespoons thyme, chopped
1 bay leaf
30 ounces cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
7 cups vegetable stock
1 bunch collard greens
3 cups cremini mushrooms
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
Add a large splash of olive oil to a cast-iron pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, fennel, one of the leeks and the thyme. Sauté until fragrant and beginning to soften. Season with salt and pepper. Add the bay leaf, cannellini beans and stock, and bring to a low boil.
Meanwhile, destem and cut the collard greens into large pieces. Add the collards to the pot and stir to combine. Lower the soup to a simmer.
Slice the cremini mushrooms, and add them to a sauté pan over low-medium heat with a splash of olive oil. Add the remaining sliced leek, and cook until the mushrooms release their liquid and start to caramelize. Season with salt and pepper.
Ladle the soup into a bowl and add a spoonful of mushrooms on top. Add a drizzle of olive oil and season lightly with sea salt and black pepper.