When I was younger, I was paralyzed with fear in most situations because I was so shy. It wasn't until I was a bit older that I realized the fear stemmed from a quest for perfection. I wasn't afraid people, but it was more a fear of being accepted, excelling at a new skill (say golf - sorry, mom) or language (Korean, in my case), and I felt that unless I was excellent at it, it wasn't worth trying. 

Growing up, I envied my brother and best friend for being exactly the opposite and I wanted to reap the same benefits of putting myself out there like they did. I can pinpoint the exact moment when I was fed up with my shy self. I decided I wasn't doing myself any favors by being afraid to do things I would rather change about myself. Since then, I've never looked back and while I still tense up when I'm entering a room where I don't know anyone, what is gained by not being the shy girl in the corner far outweighs the fear. 

A few weeks ago, I went up to Seattle to visit friends and attend an amazing workshop with Sarah and Hugh at Aran’s studio. Going into it, I was excited and nervous at the same time. I didn’t know anyone and felt a little out of place not really knowing what I’m doing with a camera and having just started this blog. Also, I went up a day early, stayed up way too late and drank way too much rosé, so rolling into this situation in the morning less than fresh didn’t give me a ton of confidence. However, as soon as I walked to into Aran’s gorgeous, welcoming space and introduced myself to the stellar group of people I was to spend the weekend with, all walls came down and it reminded me of how important it is to push out of my comfort zone. 

During the workshop, Aran and her assistant Catherine made the most delicious pumpkin soup. It was simple, yet full of flavor and was served with an array of accoutrements - hazelnuts, herbs, mustard croutons...I was in heaven. Having endured the worst heat wave for months, warm and cozy soups have been off the table for a while down here. When I returned from Seattle, fall finally arrived and I wanted to push my soup boundaries too, so this is an ode to the inspiring weekend in the PNW and the wonderful new friends I made while I was up there.

serves 6-8

One 2 ½-3lb Kabocha squash, cut into 2” wedges
1 fennel bulb, fronds trimmed and reserved for garnish, bulb cut in half with the core removed
4-6 garlic cloves, skins on
2 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt

2 tsp fennel seeds
1 Tbs unsalted butter
1 small white onion, chopped
1 red chile, ribs and seeds removed, chopped
2 tsp sherry vinegar
~ 5 cups of water
salt and pepper

Brown butter & thyme croutons:
4 slices ciabatta or french bread, cut into 1-1 ½” cubes
3 Tbs unsalted butter
½ tsp dried thyme
generous pinch of maldon salt

Preheat the oven to 400º F.
Divide squash, fennel bulbs and garlic on two sheet pans.
Coat in olive oil and salt - toss to combine.
Roast for 40-45 minutes, flipping each wedge and swapping racks halfway through, until squash is nicely browned. Set aside to cool.
Once cooled, squeeze the garlic cloves, discard the skins and set aside.
Roughly chop the fennel bulbs and set aside.
Remove the skins from the squash and set aside.
Reduce the oven to 350º.
Place fennel seeds in a dry skillet and toast 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
Grind with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and set aside.
In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter until it is foaming.
Add chopped onion and red chile with a pinch of salt and cook for 5-6 minutes until the onion is soft and translucent.
Add the roasted squash, fennel, garlic and fennel seeds. Add ~ ¾ tsp of kosher salt, several grinds of black pepper and enough water to cover, about 5 cups.
Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Continue simmering while you make the croutons.
Place the bread cubes in a medium bowl.
In the same dry skillet you used for the fennel, heat the butter over medium heat while stirring, until brown and fragrant.
Add the dried thyme and pour over the bread cubes - toss to combine.
Pour onto a sheet pan and brown in the oven, roughly 20-22 minutes, stirring halfway through to ensure even browning.
Take the soup off the heat and adjust the seasoning.
Purée in batches in a blender or with an immersion blender.

To serve, place soup in a bowl with croutons, some reserved fennel fronds and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

p.s. Happy birthday, Obba!! Wish I could make this soup for you, although I'm sure you'd prefer a burger ;)


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