I've been on vacation for the last week and it's been grand! It feels luxurious to be sitting around drinking cups of tea at 3 in the afternoon without stressing about how I'm going to get my work done before the end of the day. It's also left me with some time to cook so I decided to make this soup again last week. It's the soup I served to the cast of "Better With You" and it was definitely one of the highlights of the evening. In fact, one of the guests declared it the best soup he's ever eaten! The recipe is quite labor intensive, but most of it can be done ahead of time. I made the soup base the night before the dinner and then cooked the farro, shrimp, and leek mixture the day I served it. There is so much flavor in this bowl of food. The roasted squash, caramelized shallots, fennel, and leeks bring a lovely sweetness while the sage adds a savory punch. There is a kick from the chili flakes and the farro and shrimp give it texture. The original recipe calls for thyme, but believe it or not, the vendor at the farmers market was sold out of thyme that day. Instead, I used savory which is kind of like a cross between thyme and rosemary. A little goes a long way with savory so you may need to adjust the amount accordingly or just use thyme leaves. This soup was so comforting to have during the crazy intense rain storms we experienced in SoCal last week. In fact, if this soup was less work, I would be making it at least once a week, but for now, it's for special occasions. Vacation is certainly a special occasion.
Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Shrimp, Farro, and Leeks
(Adapted from Scott Conant)
Makes 12 servings
4 1/4 pound pumpkin, cut in half and seeds removed
1 pound butternut squash, cut in half and seeds removed
Olive oil as needed
Kosher salt to taste
3 tablespoons butter
9 shallots, thinly sliced
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1/2 bunch sage, chopped
1/2 bunch of savory, chopped (If you can't find savory, use thyme)
Large pinch red pepper flakes
2 whole star anise
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons farro
3 dozen shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on
2 leeks, sliced about 1/4 inch thin
Chives for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with foil. Place the pumpkin and squash halves flesh side up. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Cover with more foil and roast until fork tender, 40 minutes to an hour. Set aside to cool. Scrape out the flesh with a spoon and set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium saute pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil over low heat. Add the shallots and slowly caramelize, about 20 minutes. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Saute the fennel until slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted pumpkin and squash, caramelized shallots, sage, thyme, chili flakes, and star anise. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer gently for 30 minutes.
While the soup is cooking, bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the farro and a pinch of salt. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the farro is tender, about 20 minutes. Drain any additional water and set aside.
Discard the star anise. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Pass the soup through a fine-meshed sieve. Return the soup to a clean pot and keep warm over low heat. Taste and season with salt as needed.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Saute the shrimp in batches until just opaque, about 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the pan and add another tablespoon of olive oil. Cook the leeks until softened and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the farro and shrimp and toss to combine. Season with salt as needed.
Ladle the soup into bowl and top each serving with a mound of the farro, shrimp, and leek mixture. Garnish with chives.