Fennel and vegetable soup with sherried mushrooms

Makes 7 cups – 6 servings

Rich in looks, rich in taste, but not in fat. The secret: This full-bodied soup is thickened with cooked winter vegetables, not cream. The Sherried Mushrooms add a touch of elegance. For color and texture, also adorn each serving with feathery fennel greens.

The soup can be made in advance and stored in a covered container in the refrigerator; the mushrooms are best when cooked just before serving. Don’t be put off by the long ingredient list. The soup and mushrooms are very simple to prepare.

For the soup

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen corn
1 medium orange-fleshed sweet potato (about 10 ounces), peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 medium russet potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
2 ribs celery and leaves, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
½ cup coarsely chopped onion
1 fennel bulb, quartered and thinly sliced
6 cups canned chicken stock or vegetable stock (prepare using stock concentrate, cubes, or powder)
¼ cup dry sherry
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves

For the mushrooms

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¾ teaspoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
Dash of salt, or to taste
Dash of freshly ground pepper, or to taste

To complete the recipe

¼ teaspoon salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste Freshly ground pepper and sprigs of fennel greens for garnish

To make the soup, melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the corn, potatoes, celery, carrot, onion, and fennel. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the stock, sherry, thyme, and bay leaves. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat; cover and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, prepare the mushrooms. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Combine the sherry, lemon juice, and paprika in a small bowl; add to the pan and stir gently until the liquid is nearly evaporated, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining mushroom ingredients, except the garnish. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Cover to keep warm.

To complete the soup, remove and discard the bay leaves. Let the soup cool for a few minutes.

In several batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pan. Stir in the salt and pepper. Warm, stirring constantly, over medium heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Top each serving with a sprinkling of pepper, a small mound of mushrooms, and a sprig of fennel greens.