I adore the slightly haunting flavor of fennel, or anise. Mildly licorice-y in flavor, but softened during a slow sauté, it adds a luminous layer of flavor to this amazingly simple soup. I originally made it with leftover roasted butternut squash, but I’m including the directions for roasting the squash here, though if you have leftover butternut squash (and at this time of year, I often do) just use it instead. But then add a pinch or two of brown sugar to the mix (and if the squash hasn’t been roasted with any kind of sweetener), since the little bit of sugar amplifies the natural sweetness of the squash.
So, these top photos show the soup in its creamy incarnation, which is so lovely and silky and smooth and lush. A little sprinkle of chives tops them off. Of course you can and should serve this in big bowls for a starter or even a main meal, with a salad back. But also think of this soup when you want to welcome guests with a little cup of something when they come in from the cold. Or if you are passing hors d’oeuvres, this is a fun change of pace.
But if you have someone who is lactose intolerant, just leave the cream out, and set up a few of this dairy-free version. You might want to add a bit more broth since the soup will be fairly thick if not. A sprinkle of paprika finishes off this version – helpful to have different garnishes if you are serving the two versions at the same time.
By the way, that colorful salad in the top right corner is a Brussels Sprouts, Apple, and Pomegranate Slaw Salad and the bottom dish is a Simple Vegetarian Pasta Salad. And speaking of vegetarian, use vegetable broth instead of chicken and you have a vegetarian soup.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Fennel Soup
- 1 large butternut squash peeled, seeded and cubed (about 2 pounds)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 large fennel bulb cored and chopped
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Paprika or minced chives for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the squash on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle over the melted butter, sprinkle over the sugar, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Spread out in a single layer on the baking sheet, allowing space in between the cubes when possible. Roast for about 25 minutes until tender and lightly browned on the bottom.
- About 10 minutes into the roasting, heat the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat Add the onions and fennel and sauté for 10 minutes, until the vegetables have softened and turned a light golden brown. Add the broth and bring to a simmer.
- Add the cooked butternut squash to the simmering broth and working in batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor (alternately you can run the mixture through a food mill, which offers a great kind of nubby texture, or puree right in the pot with an immersion blender). Return the pureed soup to the pot. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Add the cream and heat just until warmed through. Ladle the soup into bowls, and sprinkle with paprika.
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