Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Slumber Party

I just got back from a slumber party with my girlfriends*.

The view from our slumber party locale

Aside from the improved scenery, things have definitely changed since I was my daughter's age.

What we ate then:

Potato chips
Cupcakes with sprinkles
Candy that makes your tongue turn blue and/or red, preferably in powder form from a stick
Bubble Yum, all flavors
More soda, even though mom really wanted you to stop jumping around and go to sleep
Jiffy Pop popcorn, burnt on one side where the foil got too hot
Stacks of pancakes, bacon, sausages and extra syrup the morning after

What we ate now:

Oreccehiette pasta with kale and lean chicken sausage
Carrot sticks and raw peppers
Blue cheese, salami and rosemary crackers
Fennel soup
Butter lettuce salad with shallot vinaigrette
Burrata burgers with heirloom tomatoes and pesto
8 bottles of chardonnay
2 bottles of pinot noir
2 six packs of beer
Half a bottle of gin
Dark chocolate covered marshmallows**
Several rounds of cocktails with names like "The Recovery" and "The Reef"
Strong, strong coffee the morning after

The aforementioned burrata burger

But a lot of things hadn't changed at all.

There was an inordinate amount of giggling, inappropriate language, and gossip. Grown-ups shushed us, and at one point during lunch we all had to hide our faces, dying of a combination of embarrassment and hysterics. We talked about boys we liked***, danced around in our pajamas, watched videos, and played games.  Somebody snuck a cigarette. Plans for the weekend and the rest of our lives were given serious consideration and debate. We stayed up way past our bedtimes****, wore sweatpants and fuzzy socks, and made fart jokes. And when it was time to leave, we couldn't believe how fast the time had gone.

Don't get me wrong. I loved a good slumber party when I was a kid. But I have to say, the adult version is a gazillion times better.

And tastier.

Fennel Soup with Crispy Sausage

by Sharon Graves
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Fennel, which gives minestrone and other soups the magical undertone of anise, is the star player in this miracle soup. Zero% dairy, 100% creamy, rich goodness. With crisp, spicy sausage added to balance out all that healthiness. Based on a recipe from Shannon of A Periodic Table, in turn based on one from Gordon Ramsey.

For the soup:
  • 4 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 fennel bulbs (the white part), trimmed and finely sliced
  • 4 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 8 c. low sodium chicken or vegetable stock (homemade, if you have it)
  • 1 c. Italian parsely, lightly packed and finely chopped, plus 1/4 c. more for garnish
  • 1 tsp. (generous) ground coriander
  • 2 bay leaves
  • kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Optional add ins:
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed, chopped into thin ribbons
  • 1 can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
For the crispy sausage:
  • 1 lb. (or more) linguica or other hearty pre-cooked sausage links OR
  • 1 lb. (or more) spicy Italian sausage, or chorizo with similar texture to Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Note: Fennel looks a little like a bunch of ferns on top of an oddly shaped onion. To prep it for the soup, cut the white bulb at the bottom away from the stalks. At the bottom of the white bulb is a flat part, where the bulb was cut away from its roots. Use a knife to remove this core. Then just slice what's left for the recipe.

Add the olive oil to a large, heavy bottomed soup pot, and heat over medium heat for a minute or two. Add the fennel and the celery (it may fill up your pot), and stir to coat with the olive oil. Cook, stirring once in a while, until the veggies are beginning to soften and get a bit golden on the edges, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, and stir that in, giving it another 30 seconds or so.

Add the stock, parsley, coriander, and bay leaves, mixing well. Partially cover the pot, allow to come to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer/low. Cook for 45 minutes, until the fennel is completely tender and your house smells like the Italian countryside on a summer day.

While the soup is simmering, prepare your sausage. If using cooked link sausage, such as linguica, thinly slice the sausage into discs. If using Italian sausage or chorizo, squeeze the sausage out of the casings in small portions, about an inch in diameter, similar to meatballs. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add the sausage and cook. 

For discs, you want the edges nicely brown and crispy. For the sausage balls, you also want those cooked through and nicely browned on all sides. Transfer cooked sausage to paper towels to drain. Reserve most of the oil from the sausages in a small bowl for serving.

If you are planning to add the kale to the soup (recommended!) add a little olive oil to that same sausage pan, and heat again over medium-high heat. Add the kale and a sprinkle of kosher salt to the pan and stir-fry until the kale is bright green and slightly wilted. Transfer to a bowl.

Back to the soup! Using an immersion blender, or working in batches with a regular blender, puree the soup until completely smooth and creamy.  Add the kale and/or beans, if using, to the soup in the pot and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, portion out most of the crispy sausage into the serving bowls, so everybody gets a fair amount of the good stuff. Ladle soup over the sausage. Drizzle with some of the reserved sausage oil, then top with another sausage or two and some parsley before serving.

Yes it's a repeat picture of the one at the beginning of the recipe, but it looks awesome blown up, right?

* This was a follow-up to our last outing.
** If Trader Joe's had made these when I was in junior high, we would totally have had them at the party.
*** OK, in this instance, the boys we like are our sons. But still.
**** Way past the other ladies' bedtimes. For me, it was like turning in early.


  1. I can't believe you wore sweatpants.

    1. Shocking, I know. Thank god Snoop Dog wasn't there or we'd be on the next episode of Middle Aged Ladies Gone Wild.

  2. i'm not sure i know what fennel tastes like, but the texture of this is glorious. plus, sausage!

    1. The texture is amazingly silky and smooth. Fennel is like celery, almost, but with the flavor of anise. It's really great shaved raw into salads, too.