Mediterranean Fennel Soup
1 bulb fennel (about 1 to 1 1/4 pounds), trimmed, quartered and sliced); reserve some “fennel fronds” for garnish, if desired
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, all visible fat removed (about 1 1/3 pounds)
4 cans (about 14 ounces each) chicken broth – or your own homemade broth
1 cup orzo (rice shaped pasta)
6 ounce bag of baby spinach (about 4 cups)
1/3 cup coarsely shredded Asiago cheese (or silvers cut from a chunk of Asiago cheese)
Lightly spray a five-quart Crock-Pot slow cooker with cooking spray. Place fennel, onion, carrot and garlic in slow cooker; stir in about half of the salt and pepper; spread mixture evenly over bottom.
With kitchen shears or knife, cut each chicken thigh into 4 to 6 pieces. Season chicken chunks with remaining salt and pepper. Place chicken atop fennel/onion mixture. Pour chicken broth over. Cover.
Set slow cooker on high and cook for 1 hour; lower to low setting and continue to cook for 2 hours longer.
Stir in orzo; cover and cook on low for 1 1/2 hours longer. Check to see if orzo and chicken are tender; if necessary, cook about 30 minutes.
Place spinach atop chicken/orzo mixture; do not stir. Cover and continue to cook on low for 10 to 15 minutes.
Turn off heat. Stir spinach into chicken/orzo mixture. Taste; adjust seasoning if necessary.
If desired, garnish with some of the reserved feathery fennel fronds. Top each serving with some Asiago cheese.