* 2 Small-medium fennel bulbs (about 1 pound, weighted with 2 inches of top stalks)
* 2 tbsp olive oil
* ½ cup chicken broth, preferably homemade, or good-quality low-sodium canned.
* 1 tbsp coarsely chopped garlic
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* ¾ tsp chopped fresh thyme
* ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds, ground in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle (optional).
* 2 large eggs
* About ½ cup plus 2 tbsp matzoh meal
* 7 cups homemade chicken broth
* ¼ pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and reserved for another use or discarded, caps wiped clean with a damp paper towel and thinly sliced
* 12-15 thin asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1. Prepare the matzoh balls. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut off the fennel stalks and reserve for another use (excellent for fish broth and stews). If there are some attractive feathery fronds, chop and set aside about 2 tbsp of them to garnish the soup. Quarter the bulbs and trim away the stems, the bottom hard core, and any tough parts. Choose a shallow baking pan just large enough to fit the fennel in one layer and put in 1 tbsp of the oil. Add the fennel and toss until well-coated. Roast the fennel until pale gold, about 20 minutes, then turn and roast for 10 minutes longer. Stir in the broth, garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and ½ tsp of the thyme. Cover the pan with foil and cook for 35-45 minutes longer, or until the fennel is very soft. Remove the foil, stir, and roast for a few more minutes to evaporate most of the liquid. Transfer the fennel and garlic to a food processor and chop coarsely. Add the remaining ¼ tsp thyme, salt (it will need about 1 tsp), pepper to taste, and fennel seeds, if using. With the machine on, add the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil through the feed tube.
2. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl. You should have about 1 cup of puree, so nosh on any extra. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Add the matzoh meal and stir well. If you can form a lump into a very soft walnut-size ball (the batter will become firmer when you chill it), don't add any more matzoh meal. If necessary, add just enough matzoh meal to enable you to do so. Refrigerate for at least 2 or up to 4 hours so the matzoh meal can drink in the liquid and seasoning.
3. When ready to cook, bring 4 quarts of water and 1 tbsp of slat to a rapid boil in a large, wide pot. Dipping your hands into cold water if needed, roll the batter into walnut-size balls. When all the balls are rolled and the water is boiling furiously, turn the heat down to a gentle boil. Carefully slide in the balls one at a time and cover the pot tightly.
4. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, without removing the cover (They will cook by direct heat as well as by steam, which makes them puff and swell, and lifting the lead will allow some of that steam to escape.) Take out a dumpling and cut it in half. It should be light, fluffy, and completely cooked through. If it isn't, continue cooking a few more minutes. Remove the balls gently with a skimmer of large slotted spoon - they are too fragile to pour into a colander.
5. Make the soup. Put the broth in a large pot. Bring to a simmer. Add the matzoh balls, the mushrooms, and asparagus and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
6. To serve, warm shallow soup bowls. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the matzoh balls to the heated bowls and ladle the hot soup and the vegetables over them. Garnish with the reserved chopped fennel fronds.