Puréed soups don’t have to be boring. Here, candied pumpkin seeds yield a pleasant crunch with every bite, and the use of kabocha puts a fresh spin on butternut squash soup.
Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan over medium heat 2-3 minutes, 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 a healthy pinch of salt over them. Toss the pumpkin seeds to coat them well with the butter, and cook a few minutes, until just after they begin to pop and color slightly.
Turn off the heat, and wait 30 seconds. Add the honey, tossing well to coat the pumpkin seeds. Spread on a plate and let them cool.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the squash cut side down on a cutting board, and use a sharp knife to remove the peel. Slice the squash into 1-inch-thick wedges.
Toss the squash and fennel with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and some freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Place the vegetables flat on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 35 minutes, until tender and slightly caramelized.
Meanwhile, toast the fennel seeds in a small pan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until the seeds release their aroma and are lightly browned. Pound them coarsely in a mortar.
Heat a Dutch oven or soup pot over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the butter, and when it foams, add the onions, fennel seeds, thyme, chiles, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon salt, and a good amount of freshly ground black pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-high, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are soft, translucent, and starting to color.
Add the squash and fennel, and stir to coat with the onions for a minute. Turn the heat back up to high and pour in the sherry. Let it reduce for a minute or two, and then add the stock and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Strain the soup through a colander set over a pot. Put 1/3 of the solids into a blender with ½ cup of the broth. (You will need to purée the soup in batches.) Process at the lowest speed until the squash mixture is puréed. Add another ½ cup broth and then turn the speed up to high and pour in more liquid, a little at a time, until the soup has the consistency of heavy cream. Blend at least a minute on high speed, until the soup is completely smooth and very creamy.
Transfer to a container, and repeat with the rest of the ingredients. You may not need all of the liquid. Taste for balance and seasoning.
Pour the soup into 6 bowls, spoon some crème fraîche in the center of each, and scatter the pumpkin seeds over the top. Or serve family-style in a tureen with the crème fraîche and pumpkin seeds on the side.