Champagne Oyster Soup with Spinach and Fennel

3 dozen fresh oysters, either in their shells (if you like to shuck oysters) or a good local brand that comes labeled as ‘unwashed’
4 tablespoons butter
3 bulbs fennel, cut into 1/2-inch diced pieces (reserve the tops and use this as a garnish)
5 stalks of celery, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 medium size onions, small dice
1 pound red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups fresh spinach, washed, dried, and cut into 1/2-inch ribbon
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
16 ounces water
16 ounces bottled clam juice
12 ounces champagne or sparkling wine
1 cup heavy cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper, or white pepper, to taste

Shuck the oysters, save the oyster liquor and refrigerate. If using pre-shucked oysters, count the appropriate number and save the liquor.

In a large saucepot, melt the butter over medium heat, being careful not to brown. Add the fennel, celery, onions and potatoes. Cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables begin to soften, about 15 to 20 minutes. Slowly add the flour and mix to incorporate well. Add the water in a steady stream, stirring well to incorporate and eliminate lumps. Then add the clam juice and champagne, continuing to stir. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.

Remove about 1/4 of the soup and purée in a blender until smooth; add this puréed mixture back into the soup base.

Add the spinach and cook 2 minutes. Stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper.

Just prior to serving, reheat the soup and add the oysters with their liquor. Simmer for 2 minutes, just until the oysters begin to curl. Ladle the soup into bowls, and garnish with the reserved chopped fennel tops.

Note: This soup is absolutely perfect for a special occasion and is especially great served with a glass of ice-cold champagne.

Café Gambino
4821 Veterans Blvd., Metairie
885-3620