I usually know a soup recipe is worth making again when I find myself scraping the bottom of the bowl with my spoon, trying to eke out every last possible drop I can. I know... Miss Manners frowns upon such things, but my subconscious doesn't seem to care much for manners when there's good food involved.
Anyway, that's exactly what happened when I made this soup.
I'm not going to pretend that this was my master plan all along, because it wasn't. I just happened on one of those clean-out-the-crisper dinners, when the better part of a Vidalia onion, one half of a large fennel bulb and a runty little butternut squash came together in a most fortuitous sort of way, with a wee dab of red curry paste to smooth things along. It was magical, really.
Actually, it's perfect. It's everything I like my soups to be when the days are short and the weather is cold - luxuriously thick, deeply satisfying in that filling-but-not-heavy sort of way, and with just enough spice to leave a nice warm tingly feeling without overpowering the other flavours. It does for the insides what a soft cashmere sweater does for the outsides.
As a bonus, the squash gives the soup a creamy texture and flavour without a single ounce of dairy, which means this soup easily adapts itself to a vegan meal as long as olive oil and vegetable broth are used. I suppose you can swirl in a little coconut milk or creme fraiche if you absolutely must, but it's really quite rich as it is.
In fact, all it really needs is some toast (or some pita wedges, as that's what I happened to have) and a nice green salad to make a comforting winter meal. And maybe a glass of wine, if you happen to have a half-opened bottle kicking around... I mean, this is a clean-out-the-fridge sort of meal after all, right?
Winter Squash and Fennel Soup
1 cup diced sweet onion (like Vidalia)
2 tbsp olive oil or butter
1 lb winter squash (like butternut or acorn), peeled and chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, chopped (~2 cups)
1 tsp Thai red curry paste
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
In a large heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat, saute the onions in butter until translucent, about 5-10 minutes.
Add squash and fennel, and continue cooking until soft and slightly browned, about 10-15 minutes (the aim here is to get a little caramelization on the vegetables, which will give the soup a greater depth of flavour). Stir in the curry paste, continuing to cook until vegetables are coated and fragrant, about one minute longer.
Increase the heat to high, and add the stock. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are very soft.
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until very smooth - adding a little more broth or water if it seems too thick.
Adjust seasoning as desired with salt and pepper, then ladle into bowls and serve piping hot.