This past Friday, in an act that must have happened in thousands upon thousands of households, I reached into the refrigerator, removed the package of baby spinach, and tossed it into the trash. Today I hear on the news that the name of the company that packages the spinach suspected in the e. coli outbreaks is Natural Selection Foods. Please tell me I'm not the only one who sees the dark humor in that name.
Moving on to the soup:
Last winter I went through a big spate of trying winter squash soup recipes and never found one I really liked. They always seemed to be sort of bland, and no matter what else was in them (apples, leeks) they never seemed that interesting. This recipe from Sunday Suppers at Lucques suffers from none of that; it's lively with great depth of flavor. In fact, the batch I just made was a little more lively than I anticipated due to having a little too free a hand with the cayenne pepper I was using in place of the chile de arbol.
The candied pumpkin seeds are not essential but they're fun. I've had the soup with and without and it's able to stand on it's own.
Suzanne Goin's Squash and Fennel Soup With Creme Fraiche and Candied Pumpkin Seeds
2 pounds kabocha squash (or substitute another winter squash -- I used butternut)
2 medium bulbs of fennel
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
candied pumpkin seeds
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and peel from squash and cut into inch thick wedges. Cut the fennel in half lengthwise and cut into 1 inch wedges. Toss the squash and fennel with olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and freshly ground pepper. Place the vegetables flat on a baking sheet and roast about 35 minutes, until tender and slightly carmelized.
3. Toast the fennel seeds in a small pan over medium heat until the seeds become fragrant and lightly browned, about 2 or 3 minutes. Pound them coarsely in a mortar.
4. Heat 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 black pepper. Reduce the heat to medium high and cook until the onions are translucent and starting to color.
5. 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 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer 20 minutes.
6. Puree the soup in batches. Strain the solids from the broth, reserving both. Put a third of the solids into the blender with 1/2 cup of the broth. Process at low speed until the squash mixture is pureed. Add another 1/2 cup broth and puree at high speed. Add additional broth, 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 remaining ingredients. You may not need all the liquid. Taste for balance and seasoning. 7. Pour soup into bowls, spoon creme fraiche into center, and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.
Candied Pumpkin Seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Generous pinch each: ground cinnamon, cayenne, and paprika
1 teaspoon honey
1. Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan until the seeds are fragrant and lightly browned. Pound them coarsely in a mortar.
2. 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, an cook a few minutes, until just after they begin to pop and color slightly. Turn off the heat, wait 30 seconds, then add the honey, and toss the pumpkin seeds until they are well coated. Spread on a plate and let them cool.
Notes: I was not as fussy as Suzanne Goin is about the pureeing of the squash (one of many, many, many things that separates a famous chef from your average kitchen schlub) and I just pretty much pureed it willy-nilly but towards the end it was looking a little thin and I held back some of the liquid. I also strained the soup using an applesauce strainer (which I believe is correctly called a china cap) that I bought at a flea market for $5 years ago. It's a bitch to store (it has a stand that holds it above a bowl) but it's a very handy thing.
(I've just realized how many parentheses I've used here -- possibly more than I've used in all my other posts combined. I have no idea what's going on with this but if there is any sort of lifetime quota on the use of parentheses I'm sure I've just exceeded it. )