7 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium fennel bulbs, cleaned and thinly sliced, fronds chopped and reserved
1 large onion, halved, peeled and thinly sliced
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2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ teaspoon chili powder
3 tablespoons Pernod
2 28-ounce packages or cans chopped tomatoes packed in purée
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon black pepper
6 baguette slices, ½-inch thick
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 ounces Brie, thinly sliced
1. Melt 6 tablespoons butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add fennel, onion and ½ teaspoon salt. Toss to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low. Partly cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in garlic and chili powder; cook one minute. Stir in Pernod and cook until almost completely evaporated, about three minutes.
2. Pour in tomatoes, 1½ cups water and the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook gently, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Season with 1½ teaspoons salt and the black pepper. Purée soup in batches using a blender or immersion blender until smooth.
3. Transfer soup back to pot over medium heat; simmer until slightly thickened, five to 10 minutes more. Scrape down sides and bottom of pot occasionally. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread bread slices on a large baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden, about 10 minutes.
5. Toast fennel seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant and lightly colored, two to three minutes. Melt in remaining 1 tablespoon butter.
6. Adjust oven temperature to broil and position rack six inches from heat. Brush toasts with fennel-seed butter and top with Brie. Return to oven and broil until bubbly and golden, one to three minutes. (Check every minute or so to see that they are not burning.) Ladle soup into bowls and top with a cheese crouton. Garnish with fennel fronds.
Adapted by Melissa Clark of The New York Times from “The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook,” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.