Fennel soup

Fennel soup (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Total time: 2 hours, 25 minutes

Servings: 4 to 6

Light vegetable stock

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups finely diced leeks, white part only (about 2 to 3)

1 cup finely diced carrots (about 3 medium)

1 cup finely diced celery (about 2 stalks)

3 whole cloves garlic, peeled

6 peppercorns

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs parsley

2 sprigs fennel

1 sprig thyme

1. Heat the oil in a tall 8-quart stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the leeks, carrots and celery and cook until tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, parsley, fennel and thyme. Add 10 cups cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat, cover and cook at a hard simmer 35 minutes.

3. Remove the pot from the heat. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer, gently pressing the vegetables to extract liquid. Discard the vegetables. You should have 9 cups of stock.

Soup

2 fennel bulbs (about 1 1/2 pounds)

2 large onions (about 1 1/2 pounds)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup light dry white wine

9 cups light vegetable stock

2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons Armagnac, optional

8 ( 1/4 -inch thick) slices baguette

1 large clove garlic, halved

1. Trim the feathery fronds and stems from the fennel bulbs. Chop 1 tablespoon of the fronds and reserve. Cut the bulbs in half lengthwise and remove the cores. Thinly slice on a mandoline.

2. Peel the onions, then very thinly slice on a mandoline.

3. Heat the oil in a heavy 5 1/2 -quart sauce pot and saute the fennel, onions and sugar over high heat for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the vegetables are very tender and lightly browned, 30 to 40 minutes.

4. Add the wine and simmer 1 to 2 minutes or until the wine is almost evaporated. Add the vegetable stock and salt. Cover and simmer 20 minutes to blend flavors.

5. Add the Armagnac, if using, and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Stir in the reserved chopped fennel fronds. Season to taste with salt.

6. Put the baguette slices on a baking sheet. Broil until golden brown and crisp, about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Rub each slice with the cut garlic clove, then turn and brown the other side, about 20 seconds. Serve the soup with the garlic toasts on the side.

Each of 6 servings: 216 calories; 4 grams protein; 27 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams fiber; 10 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 937 mg. sodium.