We all overeat every once in a while, and end up feeling bloated or with a stomach ache: what a Jewish Italian mother would prescribe in such cases (backed up by Maimonides’ medical treatises) is a nice bowl of fennel soup. Fennel (Anise) is one of those ingredients that until the late 1800s were shunned by non-Jews in Italy and considered lowly and vulgar. By the time this delicious vegetable was accepted into general Italian cuisine, Jews had already discovered countless ways to prepare it, raw or cooked, as an appetizer or side.
Fennel soup is to indigestion what chicken soup is to a cold, and it’s also said to help with bloating, detoxify the liver and even increase lactation. Just as your Bubbe did with the chicken, we use all parts of the fennel: we eat the bulbs, we make tea with the leaves, and we use the seeds as a spice. Curious fact: fennel seeds have such a powerful digestive effect that in (non-kosher) Italian cooking they are often used to enhance the least digestible of meats (pork)!
In the Jewish Italian tradition we also add them to many different kinds of dishes, and of course cookies and biscottis – which acquire that special exotic flavor. I have mixed feelings about making biscottis more digestible, because my husband and kids already polish them off as they are and do not need any encouragement, but you should try at least once!
Back to the soup: it’s light, parve, gluten-free if you skip the toast, and literally takes only minutes to make. Here you go.