This is a really tasty soup, combining roasted winter veggies in a silky smooth puree with onions, herbs, and sherry. For my money, though, it was a lot of work for a soup that didn't taste so terribly different than easier versions of winter squash soup. That said, the candied pumpkin seeds offered as a garnish are absolutely fantastic - I've made them again since on their own as a snack. Although they're sort of sticky from the honey (meaning you have to lick your fingers a lot!), the flavor is insanely good - spicy, salty, sweet, and just divine. They're the perfect crunchy pick-me-up during a long day of work or a great healthy substitute for dessert when you need something a bit sweet after dinner. Plus, they take all of about 5 minutes to make - you can't beat that!
Squash and Fennel Soup with Candied Pumpkin Seeds (adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques: Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table)
For the soup:
2 pounds winter squash (I used banana squash)
2 medium bulbs fennel
3 T olive oil
2 tsp fennel seeds
4 T butter
2 cups sliced yellow onions
1 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Big pinch crushed red pepper
1 dried bay leaf
3/4 cup dry sherry
8 cups water
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
For the candied pumpkin seeds:
1 T butter
1/2 cup hulled, unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 T sugar
Generous pinch cinnamon
Generous pinch smoked paprika (I used bourbon smoked paprika)
Generous pinch ground cayenne pepper
A few grinds each salt and pepper
1 T honey
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel and seed the squash and cut into chunks. Peel and core the fennel and cut into chunks. Toss with the olive oil and a little salt and pepper, and then roast until soft and caramelized, 35-40 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, toast the fennel seeds in a dry skillet until browned and fragrant. Grind the seeds in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
3. Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a large pot until it foams. Add the fennel seeds, onions, thyme, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, and a bit of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
4. While the squash and fennel finish roasting, prepare make the pumpkin seeds. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat, and then add the pumpkin seeds, sugar, spices, and a few grinds of salt and pepper. Toss to coat well and cook until the seeds start to brown.
5. Spread the pumpkin seeds on a sheet of foil, wait thirty seconds, and then add the honey. Toss quickly to coat, spread out the pumpkin seeds, and let cool. When cooled, coarsely chop.
6. Add the roasted squash and fennel to the onions and pour in the sherry. Stirring often over medium-high heat, let the sherry reduce for a few minutes and then add the water and bring to a boil. Simmer about 20 minutes.
7. Puree the soup in batches until very smooth.
8. Reheat the soup if needed.
9. Serve the soup with a dollop of Greek yogurt and the pumpkin seeds.