Fennel, Carrot and Spinach Soup

This soup started with an impulse shop of two big fennel bulbs, a bulb of new season garlic and a couple of banana shallots. I imagined a pale soup flecked with crisp scraps of bacon but it changed course as the fennel shrunk, adding carrots, potatoes and spinach and finally, chopped tomato, ending up with one of those bowls stiff with vegetables that cry out for garlic bread to dunk and slurp.

Serves 4

Prep: 30 min

Cook: 45 min

2 banana shallots

25g butter

½ tbsp olive oil

2 fennel bulbs

2 garlic cloves

4 rashers streaky bacon, optional

2 medium carrots

½ tbsp flour

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

2 potatoes

2 tomatoes

100g baby spinach

Halve the shallots lengthways, peel away the skin and slice into tiny scraps. Melt the butter in the olive oil in a spacious, lidded pan and stir in the shallot. Cook gently while you quarter the fennel through the root and slice across the pieces into thin half moons. Slice the garlic in thin rounds. Stir fennel and garlic into the softening shallots, add a pinch of salt, cover the pan and cook, stirring a couple of times while you chop the bacon into lardons, trim, scrape and thinly slice the carrots in rounds. Stir the bacon into the shrinking, juicy fennel and cook, uncovered as the fat runs. Dust the flour over the vegetables, stirring until disappeared then add the stock. Bring to simmer, stirring regularly as the soup thickens,  while you peel and dice the potatoes. Rinse and add to the simmering soup. Return to simmer, partially cover the pan and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are soft. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Pour boiling water over the tomatoes, count to 30, drain, cut out the core whilst swiping off the skin. Dice the flesh. Stir the spinach into the soup and when wilted, add the tomato. Heat through and serve now or later.