Winter Squash Soup with Candied Pumpkin Seeds

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These past two weeks have proved the validity of the phrase, “Time flies when you’re having fun.”

Two weekends ago I offered to pick up Allison and Nicole from the airport, as they were coming into town to stay with Kelsey. All three of them came to Depot on Saturday to throw down, and then graciously invited me to spend the afternoon with them on Abbot Kinney. I decided to break my hermitage and went to lunch with them. I got some delicious food in great company, and was wholly glad that I had done something other than croon over Kitty and attempt to study for my final, which had been my original plan for the day.

I officially ended my first semester at Otis last Wednesday—only two and a half more years to go! The next day I went for a drink (my mind naturally wants to finish that sentence with, “…in the Three Broomsticks.”) with my Otis comrades, Alaura and Cindi. Despite being twenty-two, I rarely “go for a drink,” food being my usual choice for an outing. I felt like such an adult, sitting there with my muddled strawberry and cucumber gin cocktail—not to mention extremely girly. I found out after I ordered that the drink was from the “Skinny” menu, which I would have automatically ignored had I had the choice (most of you know by now that I make it my ambition to find the most calorically dense items on any menu).

I competed in my first CrossFit competition in two years on Saturday—it was very small, Christmas-themed, and it only consisted of Depot members. My partner, Brad, and I got first place! It was a good experience overall, especially compared to the last competition I tried, in which I unwisely volunteered to do way too many thrusters and pull-ups. Jonji was an excellent MC, made even better by the fact that he was forced to wear a Christmas onesie.

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On Saturday evening Jonji surprised me by taking me to see Wicked at the Pantages Theater. The theater was quite grand, and the show spectacular. It was also a great excuse for me to say “theater” in a pompous British accent as many times as I could—something I never tire of, I assure you. We didn’t get out of the show until 11 PM, at which time Naveen, Dan, Spencer, and Jake had just gotten into town. Naveen and Dan stayed the night with us, and then we all met up the next day. Todd, Jessica, Brandon, and Omri also joined us. We went to breakfast, a surprisingly difficult feat with such a large group, and then attempted to get everyone to Santa Monica to walk around the pier. I suddenly became ravenously hungry as we sat on the beach, and tried to convince my stomach that I could handle waiting. What a joke: me, wait to eat? I soon cracked and so we went in search for food. We eventually split up, since deciding on a snack between that many people is virtually impossible. We all met back up for dinner at a tasty Argentine place later that night, at which I consumed enough garlic to actually give me a stomach ache before I fell asleep. We went back to Todd and Jessica’s for a couple rounds of Todd-facilitated jeopardy after dinner, during which Omri’s hair was accidentally lit on fire. Not to worry, though—Jake’s quick reflexes had the fire out in about two seconds. Fortunately Omri didn’t mind a little bit of hair being burnt, and so the whole situation was hilarious rather than tragic. We finished the game and said goodnight to our friends and the smell of burnt hair.

The next day we once again rallied the troops for brunch, this time at Gjelina Take-Away. I spent the rest of the day by myself, doing some much-needed grocery shopping and making bread (sourdough and pumpkin bread). We all went to see a movie later that night, called Inherent Vice. Definitely the most confusing movie I have ever seen. In fact, I still don’t know what happened.

Dan and Naveen left this morning, but not before I had done a Mom and forced them to have a piece of toast each before they went on their way.

It has been extremely cold here the past few days. And by extremely cold, I mean pretty dang warm compared to the rest of the country. But still. I’ve been making warm foods, and using the oven as much as possible so as to get a little heat into our place. Soup is one of my favorite cold-weather foods, since it can make even the coldest person remove a sweater. I should know, since I am often the coldest person in any group. This recipe was adapted from Suzanne Goin’s, Sunday Suppers at Lucques—it’s so good that I’ve barely changed it.

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Winter Squash Soup with Candied Pumpkin Seeds
serves 6

1 large kabocha squash
1 large fennel bulb
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

1.5 tsp fennel seeds
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 tbsp thyme leaves (from about 8 sprigs)
1 chile de árbol
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
4.5 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
heaping 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp butter
2 tsp sugar
heaping 1/8 tsp each of cayenne pepper, paprika, and cinnamon
1 tsp honey
salt

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut the squash in half. Slice each of the halves into 1/2 inch sections. Skin each section with a knife by turning the section on its side and cutting the outer skin off in small chunks. Cut each skinned section into wedges roughly 1 inch wide. Place cut squash into a large bowl. Cut the fennel top off, then cut the bulb in half. Slice the root out and then slice each half, cut-side down, into 1/4 inch wide strips. Toss fennel and squash with the olive oil, a generous amount of pepper, and about 3/4 tsp salt. Place on a baking tray and roast for 30 minutes, or until easily pricked with a fork.

Toast the fennel seeds in a small pan over medium heat. Shake the pan frequently to ensure even toasting. The seeds will be done after a few minutes, once you can clearly smell them toasting. Grind with a mortar and pestle and set aside.

Heat a medium dutch oven over medium-high heat for one minute. Add the butter and, once it’s melted, add the onion (sliced in half, half again, and then into 1/4 inch slices), thyme, chile de árbol, fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp salt, some cracked black pepper, and the bay leaf. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for about 8 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add the roasted squash and fennel and stir to coat with the onions. Add the white wine and sherry vinegar, and let cook for about a minute. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiled, turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes.

If you have an immersion blender, use that to blend the soup until smooth and uniform in texture. If you do not have an immersion blender, blend the soup in batches in a normal blender (it will take three or four batches). Keep hot.

To make the candied pumpkin seeds: toast the cumin seeds the same way as the fennel seeds, then grind them with the mortar and pestle. Add the butter to a small pan and once it foams, add the pumpkin seeds. Stir in the sugar and spices (including the cumin seeds), and cook for a couple minutes. The seeds will be done once they start to pop and color. Let the seeds rest for one minute, then add the honey and a little salt and stir.

Serve the soup hot and garnish with the candied pumpkin seeds.

Stay warm!

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