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Roasted Butternut Squash and Fennel Soup

This soup has a rich and comforting flavour and it says ‘Fall’ to me.

(adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques)
1 butternut squash, about 1 lb.
1 large bulb fennel
2 T. olive oil
1 T. fennel seeds
2 T. unsalted butter
1 c. sliced onions
1 T. fresh thyme
1 dried arbol chile, or chile flakes to taste
1 bay leaf
1/2 c. Sherry
5 c. chicken or vegetable stock, or water
candied pumpkin seeds (recipe below)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Remove the peel and cut squash into 1″ cubes. Cut the fennel into similar sized pieces. Toss the squash and fennel with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place vegetables on a baking sheet and roast about 35 minutes, until tender and slightly caramelized.

Meanwhile, toast the fennel seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat until they release their aroma and are lightly browned. Pound them coarsely in a mortar, or between sheets of paper.

Heat a Dutch oven or soup pot over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the butter, and when it foams, add the onions, crushed fennel seeds, thyme, chile, bay leaf, 1 t. salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are soft and starting to colour.

Add the squash and fennel, and stir to coat with the onions for a minute. Turn the heat back up and pour in the Sherry. Let it reduce for a minute or two and then add the stock. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Purée the vegetables, reserving some of the stock until you see how thick the soup is, adding more stock as needed to produce a thick, creamy soup.

Pour the soup into bowls and top with candied pumpkin seeds.

Candied Pumpkin Seeds
1/4 t. cumin seeds
2 t. unsalted butter
1/2 c. raw pumpkin seeds
1 T. sugar
generous pinch each of cinnamon, paprika and cayenne pepper
1 t. honey

Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan over medium heat 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 some salt over them. Toss the seeds to coat them well in the butter and cook a few minutes, until just after they begin to pop and colour slightly. 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.

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