SHRIMP CHOWDER WITH FENNEL
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp
1 small bulb fennel (8 ounces)
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic, 2 crushed and 3 finely chopped (1 tablespoon)
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups water
Kosher or sea salt
4 ounces slab (unsliced) bacon, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch dice
1 medium onion (8 ounces), thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 pounds low starch potatoes (eg Yukon Gold) peeled, quartered, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup canned whole peeled tomatoes with their juice, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Peel and devein the shrimp, reserving the shells. Split the shrimp lengthwise in half down the back, cover, and refrigerate until needed.
Remove the fronds top from fennel, coarsely chop, and reserve for garnish, covered and refrigerated. Trim off remainder of tops and tough outer layers of the fennel and coarsely chop, reserve for the stock. Quarter the fennel bulb lengthwise, cut out the core, and cut across into 1/4- to 1/3-inch slices.
Add 2 tbsp oil and the 2 crushed garlic cloves to a sauté pan and heat over medium-high heat until the garlic begins to brown. Add the shrimp shells and sauté until the shells are red, add the fennel trimmings, the wine, and water, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and strain (should make about 3 1/2 cups).
Heat a pot over low heat and add the bacon. When it is rendered, increase the heat to medium and cook until the bacon is a crisp golden brown. Pour off all but 1 tbsp of fat and leave bacon in the pot. Add the remaining 1 oil and chopped garlic, cook for 30 seconds, add onion, sliced fennel, fennel seeds, and red pepper and sauté (stir occasionally) until the onion and fennel are softened but not browned.
Add the potatoes and the reserved shrimp stock (add water to cover if needed), turn up the heat and bring to a boil, cover and cook until potatoes soft outside but still firm in the center. If the broth is not somewhat thicker, mash some potatoes against the side of the pot and cook 2 minues more. Reduce the heat to medium, add the tomatoes, and simmer 5 minutes more, stir in the shrimp and cook for 1 minute, then remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cream. Let sit for 10 minutes, taste and adjust seasoning.
When ready to serve, ladle into warmed and sprinkle with the reserved chopped fennel fronds. Serves 8-10 as a first course.