Here is an easy version of the famed fish soup of Marseilles, crowned with fennel fronds, chervil and orange zest and accompanied with crunchy crostini. It’s the perfect stew to welcome the first cool evenings of fall.
Simple Fish Bouillabaisse
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 Tbs. fennel seeds
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup (2 oz./60 g.) tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup (3 fl. oz./80 ml.) dry white wine
1 large fennel bulb
1 can (15 oz./470 g.) crushed tomatoes, with juice
5 cups (40 fl. oz./1.25 l.) fish or vegetable broth
2 lb. (1 kg.) cod or monkfish fillets, cut into 2-inch (5-cm.) chunks
Shredded zest of 1 orange
2 Tbs. chopped fresh chervil (optional)
Crostini for serving
In a large Dutch oven over low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic, fennel seeds and bay leaves and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant and tender, about 10 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown. Stir in the tomato paste and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Pour in the wine and stir to combine.
Cut off the stems and feathery fronds of the fennel bulb and remove any bruised or discolored outer layers. Coarsely chop the feathery tops to yield 2 tablespoons and set aside. Cut the bulb lengthwise into wedges and trim away the core, leaving a little core intact to hold each wedge together. Add the fennel wedges, tomatoes with their juice and broth to the Dutch oven, cover and cook at a gentle simmer for 1 hour. Add the fish, re-cover and cook for 10-15 minutes more. The fish should be firm but tender.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fish and fennel wedges to a plate. Puree the soup with an immersion blender. (Alternatively, for a chunkier soup, transfer half of the mixture to a blender, process until smooth, then return to the Dutch oven and stir to combine.)
Ladle the tomato broth into shallow bowls and divide the fish and fennel wedges evenly among the bowls. Garnish each serving with a little orange zest, the reserved chopped fennel tops and the chervil, if using. Season with pepper and serve with the crostini. Serves 4 to 6.