TasteFood

The Feta and the Ouzo Made Me Do It

For an easy and warming weeknight meal, nothing beats a hearty vegetable soup or stew. Soups are often quick to prepare and nonjudgmental when it comes to emptying the contents of the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator, and they always portend a healthy and resourceful dinner. One of my favorite go-to soup stocks is Italian-inspired and tomato-based, sometimes with a splash of wine, and often with a rind of cheese added into the mix to exude delicious umami flavor while the soup simmers. I'll then finish with beans or grains and handfuls of sturdy greens, which obligingly wilt when simmered in the stock just long enough to soften without discoloring.

For this soup, I tweaked my favorite method and took a detour farther south and east to Greece for inspiration. A splash of ouzo and a handful of feta cheese made me do it. Ouzo is a Greek anise-flavored liqueur, which nicely amplifies the fennel in the soup while smoothing out the natural acidity of the tomatoes. And rather than my usual hunk of parmesan rind, I remained in Greece for inspiration and sprinkled crumbled feta over the soup for sharp and salty oomph. I must say I was pleased with this little detour, and I hope you are too.

Greek White Bean Stew With Tomato, Feta and Ouzo

Active time: 35 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced, fronds reserved for garnish

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juices

1 1/2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock for a vegetarian option)

2 tablespoons anise liqueur, such as ouzo

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 small bunch, about 6 leaves, Swiss chard or lacinato kale

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Crumbled feta for garnish

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent and the fennel softens, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, thyme and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste to blend and then add the wine. Simmer until the wine is reduced by about one-third, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, ouzo, bay leaf, sugar, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, and add another tablespoon of ouzo if desired.

While the stew is simmering, remove the tough stems from the chard or kale, stack the leaves, and slice crosswise into thin ribbons. Stir the greens and the white beans into the stew and cook until the greens wilt, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently. If the stew is too thick, top off with additional chicken stock and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Ladle the soup into serving bowls and serve garnished with crumbled feta and the reserved fennel fronds.

CAPTIONS AND CREDITS

More like TasteFood