Kabocha Soup with Pancetta and Herbs

  • 12 gingersnaps, crushed medium-fine in a plastic bag
  • 1 cup crème frâiche, whipped to medium peaks
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground   
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground   
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice, ground   
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne   
  • 8 slices pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch squares
  • 1 cup fresh herbs (tarragon, chervil, sage, frisée)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, extra virgin
  • 2 each onions, yellow, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, white or sugar in the raw
  • 6 pounds kabocha squash, peeled and seeded, cut into 2-3-inch chunks
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 2 quarts water
  • 6 thyme sprigs, fresh, tied together
  • 2 bay leaves, dried   
  • Lemon juice, salt, and black pepper to taste
Place gingersnaps in the bag and with a rolling pin (or small pot), and crush them to med-fine. In a mixing bowl, combine crème frâiche , lemon zest, spices and a pinch of salt and  whip to medium peaks. Cook pancetta in a sauté pan over med. heat until rusty-colored and crispy, drain on paper towels. Pick herbs and Frisée and gently toss together.
(The above garnish can be done hours ahead, wrapping all, and refrigerating the herbs.)

Add olive oil to a large soup pot on medium-high heat and add the onion, stirring occasionally. Cook until slightly golden, season with a little salt and sugar. Add the squash, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf to the pot.

Add stock and water, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 45 minutes. Puree in a blender until smooth, add water or stock to desired consistency. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice if needed.

Garnish in the bowls: Whipped crème frâiche in the center, topped with some herb salad. Surround this with the gingersnap crumbs and pancetta chips. (The garnished bowls can be done ahead, and placed on the table for a beautiful presentation.)

To serve, pour the warm soup on top of the pancetta and have them sit down to a fantastic and beautiful holiday-season first course.

Serves 12-15.