While talking about one of my favorite subjects-food-a friend commented that on a recent trip to the Napa Valley every restaurant she entered was serving kabcocha squash. It came as no surprise to me, as I too am enamored by this sweet winter squash. I’ve been a long time fan of good old butternut, but lately I seem to come home from the farmers’ market with a big kabocha in my basket.
I first made this soup last year for a dinner party that never came to be. There in the fridge sat a big bowl of this creamy puree and as disappointed as I was about the dinner party, I was secretly delighted to have a stash of this delectable soup. It comes from one of my favorite books-Sunday Suppers at Lucques– by Suzanne Goin. Usually I ‘m not a huge fan of books by restaurant chefs, but this one has never disappointed and I find myself returning to it over and over.
Kabocha Squash and Fennel Soup With Creme Fraiche and Candied Pumpkin Seeds
2 pounds Kabocha squash
2 medium fennel bulbs
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups sliced onions
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 chiles de arbol
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup sherry
10 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water
1/4 cup creme fraiche
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Candied Pumpkin Seeds
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Peel the squash. Cut in half and remove the seeds. Slice squash into 1″ thick wedges. Cut the fennel in half and then into 1/2″ thick wedges. Toss the squash and the fennel with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and some freshly ground pepper. Place the vegetables flat on a baking sheet and roast until tender and slightly carmelized, about 35 minutes.
Meanwhile toast the fennel seeds in a small pan over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until seeds release their aroma and are lightly browned. Pound them coarsely in a mortar, or put between parchment paper and crush with a rolling pin.
Heat a Dutch oven or soup pot over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the butter and when it foams add the onions, fennel seeds, thyme, chiles, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon salt and a good amount of freshly ground pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often until the onions are soft, translucent and starting to color.
Add the squash and the fennel and stir to coat with the onions for a minute. Turn the heat back to high and pour in the sherry. Let it reduce for a minute or two and then add the stock and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Strain the soup through a colander set in a pot. Put 1/3 of the solids in a blender with 1/2 cup broth (you will need to puree the soup in batches.) Process at the lowest speed until the squash mixture is pureed. Add another 1/2 cup broth and then turn the speed up to high and pour more liquid in until the soup has the consistency of heavy cream. Blend at least a minute on high until the soup is completely smooth and creamy.Transfer to a container and repeat with remaining ingredients. You may not need all the liquid. Taste for balance and seasoning.
Pour the soup into six bowls, spoon some creme fraiche into the center of each and scatter pumpkin seeds over the top.
Candied Pumpkin Seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup raw pumplin seeds
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Generous pinch each of ground cinnamon, paprika, and cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon honey
Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the seeds release their aroma and are lightly browned. Pound them coarsely in a mortar.
Melt the butter in the pan over medium heat. Add the pumpkin seeds and sugar and then sprinkle the spices and a healthy pinch of salt. Toss the pumpkin seeds to coat well with the butter and cook for a few minutes, until they pop and begin to turn color.
Turn off the heat and wait 30 seconds. Add the honey, tossing well to coat the seeds. Spread on a plate and let them cool. These are delicious to just nibble on!
I made this the first time using chicken broth and this time with water and both versions were equally delicious.