Autumn Squash Soup

This rich soup tastes like autumn to me. I love its warm, velvety taste and texture. For a dynamite presentation, serve it in hollowed-out miniature pumpkin shells with a dollop of sour cream or thick yogurt, some butter croutons, and a little crumbled-up bacon—or hollow out a big pumpkin to serve as a soup tureen.  3 acorn squash 3 carrots, scraped and sliced 1 medium onion, sliced 1 cup chopped tart green apple (such as Granny Smith) 3-1/2 cups canned chicken broth, divided 1/3 cup apple cider 2 Tbsp. butter 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour ½ cup cooking sherry or ½ cup additional cider with 1 tsp. vanilla extract 1 tsp. vanilla extract 2 tsp. peeled and grated fresh ginger root 1 tsp. salt 1 tsp. black pepper 1/8 tsp. paprika 1 pinch ground allspice 1/2 tsp. nutmeg 1 cup half-and-half (I use fat free) Fresh thyme for garnish Preheat oven to 350º F. Cut squashes in half and remove seeds. Place on shallow pan, add about ½” of water to keep it from drying out, and bake for about 55 minutes, until soft. Allow to cool, then scoop out the pulp Place carrot, onion, and apple in ½ cup water in a saucepan. Bring to boil, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, until softened. Drain and mix with squash pulp, 1 cup of the chicken broth, and the apple cider. Puree mixture in a blender or food processor, processing in batches if necessary. Place puree in a slow cooker or large saucepan. Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add flour and stir till smooth. Cook over medium heat about a minute, stirring constantly, until thick and bubbly. Add pureed squash and carrots, along with remaining 2½ cups chicken broth, cooking sherry (or cider and vanilla), ginger, salt, pepper, paprika, allspice, and nutmeg. Heat the soup for a few minutes. Stir in half-and-half just before serving. To serve in pumpkin shells: Cut off tops of miniature pumpkins (1 per serving) and scoop out pulp and seeds. Place on a cookie sheet and warm in the oven (200º F) for about 10 minutes. Ladle in soup and top with sour cream, chives, croutons, and bacon.
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