2 1/2 T olive oil
2 1/2 T unsalted butter
5 C (3/4 inch diced) fennel, tops and cores removed (2 fennel bulbs)
3 C chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks) wash thoroughly
2 1/2 C chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
1 lb med-thick asparagus
1/2 C long -grain white rice
8 C chicken stock
3 lg sprigs thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C julienned fresh basil leaves
2 T Pernod liqueur
1/2 C half and half
Freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, for serving
In a large (11-inch) pot or Dutch oven such as Le Creuset, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat and add fennel, leeks, and onions. Cut or break off the tough bottoms of the asparagus and discard. Cut off 8 (2") tips from the asparagus and reserve. Slice the remaining stalks 1/2" thick crosswise and add them to the pot. Cook the vegetables for 20 min, stirring occasionally, until very tender.
Add the rice to the vegetables, pour in the chicken stock, add the thyme, 2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 min, stirring occasionally, until the rice is very tender. Off the heat, stir in the basil and Pernod or Sambuca. Discard the thyme.
Meanwhile, bring a sm saucepan of water to a boil. Add the reserved asparagus tips cook for 2 min, drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water. Set aside.
Puree the soup with a immersion blender. Stir in the half and half, taste for seasonings. And reheat over low heat. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with julienned basil. Parmesan cheese, and blanched asparagus tips.