Fennel, with its subtle anise flavor, goes well with potatoes and asparagus in this simple, pureed soup. A great first course.

Serves 4 to 6

6 cups water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thickly sliced
3/4 cup coarsely chopped fennel
1 cup coarsely chopped unpeeled red potatoes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
3 1/2 cups 1-inch asparagus pieces
1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
6 thin orange slices

1. Boil the water in a separate pot.
2. Place the oil in a 6-quart stockpot, and warm over medium heat. Add the garlic, fennel, potato, and salt, and saute, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, or until the fennel begins to soften.
3. Add the asparagus and boiling water to the pot. Allow the ingredients to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the asparagus is bright green and tender.
4. Stir in the parsley, and remove the pot from the stove.
5. Let the soup cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then puree the ingredients in a blender. (This may have to be done in two or three batches.)
6. Adjust the seasonings, if desired.
7. Ladle the soup into bowls, and garnish each with an orange slice before serving.
From Leslie Cerier's cookbook, Going Wild in the Kitchen (2005, Square One Publishers)