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Potato leek & fresh fennel soup with halibut brochette & tomato-saffron vinaigrette

Soup:
¼ cup butter
1 large pinch of salt
4 large leeks, trimmed of greenest parts
3 large bulbs of fresh fennel, leafy parts trimmed away
1 quart chicken (or vegetable) stock
3 large potatoes, peeled and rinsed
2 cups half and half
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Vinaigrette:
Zest and juice from one large orange
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. saffron threads, crushed
1 cup fresh tomato, peeled seeded and finely diced
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh fennel leaves, chopped
¼ cup fresh chives, finely sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste

Brochette:
1 ½ lbs. fresh halibut or ling cod, skinless and boneless
Vegetable oil
1 tbsp. fennel seeds
¼ cup scallions, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh fennel leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper
6 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 20 minutes


Chef’s Note: for best results marinate fish first, then prepare vinaigrette, then prepare soup. Soup can be prepared up to three days in advance; however, it does not freeze well. Vinaigrette will also keep a day or two if made in advance.

Marinate Fish: Toast the fennel seeds in a small skillet until they are slightly darkened and aromatic; a minute or two over medium high heat will do. Set seeds aside in a small dish. Cut the fish into 18 large cubes, approximately one inch across. Place pieces of fish into a large ziplock bag. Crush the fennel seeds and add them to the fish along with two tablespoons of vegetable oil, the scallions and the fennel leaves. Close the bag and toss the fish inside with the marinade ingredients till the fish is well coated. Place in your refrigerator for one hour, turning bag over once or twice.

Prepare vinaigrette: Pour the orange juice, orange zest and lime juice into a medium mixing bowl and stir in the crushed saffron threads. Allow the saffron to soak in the citrus juices for a few minutes while the remaining vinaigrette ingredients are prepared. Next, add the diced tomato, olive oil, fresh fennel leaves and chives to the bowl and stir to blend evenly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set vinaigrette aside for 30 minutes or so, while soup is prepared, so the flavors have a chance to develop. Makes approximately 1½ cups vinaigrette.

Prepare soup: Slice the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice them thinly. Put the sliced leeks into a large bowl of water and stir them around a bit to release any grit. Place the leeks in to a strainer and shake off excess water. Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the salt and the leeks and stir to coat the leeks with the butter. Turn flame to low and cover the pot with its lid. Next, trim the fennel bulbs of any brown or fibrous areas and quarter them. Quickly slice them into thin slices and add them to the soup pot. Stir the leek mixture to coat the fennel with the butter and replace the lid. Allow the vegetables to “sweat” for a few minutes, or until they are softened but not brown. Add the chicken stock and increase the flame to high until the mixture boils. Reduce heat to a simmer and allow the vegetables to simmer until they are completely soft. Slice the potatoes into ¼-inch thick slices and add them to the soup mixture. Stir them around so they are covered with stock and then cover the pot with its lid. Simmer the potatoes until they begin to fall apart, about 15 minutes. Use a blender to puree the soup in batches. Once all the soup is pureed, pour it back into the soup pot and add the half and half. This soup should be fairly thick, but if it seems too thick add some more stock, water, or milk to thin it a bit. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Grill Brochettes: Place three cubes of fish onto each of the 6 skewers, keeping fish near the pointed end of the skewer and the opposite end empty. Sprinkle generously with salt and freshly ground pepper on all sides. Place each skewer onto a medium hot grill and cook until lightly marked, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn skewers over and grill another 3 or 4 minutes or until fully cooked.

Serve Soup: Serve hot soup in warm soup bowls with a fish brochette over top (leave empty end of brochette pointing over edge of bowl) and a large spoonful of Tomato-Saffron Vinaigrette on top of the fish. Makes 6 main course servings.

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