Rustic Soup of Small Fish, Fennel and Olives

I'd be lying if I didn't credit Cooking Light as the starting point for this recipe: Rustic Soup of Small Fish, Fennel, and Olives.

The magazine's Provencal Pork Stew with Olives and Fennel (January 2006) is a favorite dinner for my boyfriend and me. But every time we ate it, we'd scoop out all the pork on the first night, leaving the leftovers meatless.

I reinvented the leftovers from the previous night's soup, sans pork, into a quick lunch using a can of sardines I had in the cupboard. And behold, a new soup was born.

Unlike the pork version, the fish soup doesn't require a long simmer. Serve with crusty bread, or add white beans, such as cannellini, for a more substantial meal. You could also set in a nice big piece of white fish in the soup at the end and poach it until done. Yum.

Rustic Soup of Small Fish, Fennel and Olives
olive oil
2 cups sliced fennel bulb (about 1 bulbs)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 anchovies packed in oil, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium vegetable broth
1 teaspoon fennel seed
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves, dried
1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
1 tin (3.75 ounces) per person sardines packed in water, drained and large bones removed
1 big can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup good purple olives, such as nicoise (kalamatas work but may be too salty)
salt and pepper (white or black) to taste
Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add fennel and onion; sauté until tender and carmelized. Add garlic and anchovies; sauté 2 minutes.

Add wine to pan, scraping pan to loosen any browned bits. Stir in fennel seed, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, and tomatoes. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a simmer.

If adding pre-cooked beans, add them now. Stir in the olives. Gently add the sardine pieces, being careful not to break them up too much. Add the salt and white pepper last, and stir to combine. Simmer at least 10 minutes more to let the flavors combine.

Before serving, remove bay leaf and stems from thyme (the leaves should have fallen off). Sprinkle with parsley, if desired.