1.18.10 Soup's On

You asked for soup, you got it. This rich and creamy combination of kabocha squash and fennel is a wonderful winter recipe from Suzanne Goin. She's an LA-based chef and I really recommend her cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques. (I hope to eat at Lucques, or at AOC, her other place, when I'm in LA later this week.) This is a hearty vegetarian soup (although you can make it with chicken stock) and along with some cheese and salad I think it will leave you quite satisfied. As a general rule, I want to encourage you to play with recipes. Don't get all hung up if you don't have exactly what is called for (this is not baking, after all). Don't have stock on hand? Use water. No chiles de árbol? Try a pinch of cayenne pepper. Can't find the creme fraiche? I'll bet you've got a dollop of sour cream or Greek yoghurt. Go on, let your freak flag fly.This recipe is also a good template for other vegetable soups. Roast or steam or braise whatever you've got—broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, sweet potatoes. Sautee a flavor base in oil and/or butter: garlic, shallots, onions, maybe some celery, parsley, carrots. How about some herbs? Thyme, rosemary, bay leaves. Maybe even some stronger spices like cumin, curry or saffron. Now add some stock or water and your cooked vegetables and let it simmer together. Puree it all in your blender, or right in the pot with an immersion blender. Garnish it with something: croutons or toasted nuts for crunch; a squeeze of lemon or a dash of balsamic vinegar for brightness; a drizzle of pumpkin seed or extra-virgin olive oil. It's easy once you have a bit of a formula to follow, right? How about carrot soup with ginger, garnished with pumpernickel croutons and sea salt? Or broccoli soup with lemon zest, a hit of anchovy paste and some parmesan swirled through. Or cauliflower soup enriched with a little cream, with fried shallots sprinkled on top. You can also whip up a pistou, whizzing together green herbs, lemon zest, nuts and oil into a sort of French pesto that's wonderful stirred into soups.
Kabocha is a rich, sweet and dry-textured squash that used quite a bit in Japanese cooking. It's sometimes referred to as Japanese pumpkin. Like all squash, it's good for you--high in fiber and in vitamins C and A. It has a darkish green, striated outside, sometimes tinged with orange and yellow.

Kabocha Squash & Fennel Soup

(with crème fraîche & candied pumpkin seeds)
from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin
serves 6
  • — 2 pounds kabocha squash (about 1 medium sized squash)
  • — 2 medium fennel bulbs
  • — 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • — 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • — 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • — 2 cups sliced onions
  • — 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • — 2 chiles de árbol
  • — 1 bay leaf
  • — 3/4 cup sherry
  • — 10 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock or water
  • — 1/4 cup crème fraiche
  • candied pumpkin seeds (recipe follows)
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place the squash cut side down on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to remove the peel. Slice into 1”-thick wedges. Cut the fennel in half lengthwise and then into ½”-thick wedges.

Toss the squash and fennel with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Place the vegetables flat on a baking sheet and roast about 35 minutes, until tender and slightly caramelized.

Meanwhile, toast the fennel seeds in a small pan over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes, until the seeds release their aroma and are lightly browned. Pound them coarsely in a mortar and pestle (or briefly blitz in a spice grinder).

Heat a Dutch oven or soup pot over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the butter and, when it foams, add the onion, 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 fennel, and stir to coat with the onions for a minute. Turn the heat back up 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 in a colander set in a pot. Put a third of the solids into a blender with ½ cup of the broth. (You will need to puree the soup in batches.) Process at the lowest speed until the squash mixture is pureed. Add another ½ cup broth and then turn the speed up to high and pour in more liquid, a little at a time, until the soup has the consistency of heavy cream. Blend at least a minute on high speed, until the soup is completely smooth and very creamy. Transfer to a container and repeat with the rest of the ingredients. You may not need all the liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

To serve, pour soup into bowls, spoon some crème fraiche in the center and scatter pumpkin seeds on top.

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Candied Pumpkin Seeds

You can play with the spices here according to what you like. I make these with cardamom to sprinkle on top of my pumpkin custard. They are also delicious mixed into salads or eaten out of hand as a snack.
  • — 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • — 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • — 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • — 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • — generous pinch each of ground cinnamon, paprika, and cayenne pepper
  • kosher salt

Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan over medium heat 2-3 minutes, until the seeds release their aroma and are lightly browned. Pound them coarsely in a mortar.

Melt the butter in the cumin pan over medium heat. Add the pumpkin seeds and sugar, then sprinkle the spices and a healthy pinch of salt over them. Toss the pumpkin seeds to coat them well with the butter, and cook a few minutes, until just after they begin to pop and color slightly.

Turn off the heat and wait 30 seconds. Add the honey, tossing well to coat the pumpkin seeds. Spread on a plate and let them cool.

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wow! this looks wonderful, i eagerly await next weekend to try it at home - very helpful about the experimentation ideas - i am one of those who gets nervous when i don't have the right thing in the right bowl!
Nina on January 19, 2010 at 9:16 am — Reply
I LOVE Fennel.....this looks like a superb combo!
Kitchen Butterfly on January 19, 2010 at 11:22 am — Reply