1 cooking pumpkin or winter squash (about 3 pounds), cut in half
2 onions, divided
2 fresh thyme sprigs or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage (or 1 teaspoon dried), plus a few whole leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup small bread cubes

Scoop seeds out of the squash. Put seeds in a wide pot with 1 peeled and sliced onion, 1 of the thyme sprigs and as much water — up to 2 quarts — as possible before putting in a steaming basket. Place squash in basket, cut-side down. Bring to a boil, then cover and steam until tender, for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on type of squash.

Strain cooking water and reserve it. Scoop out squash flesh.

Peel and dice remaining onion. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a soup pot. Saute onion with remaining thyme sprig, the parsley and sage over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until onion slices are golden, for about 20 minutes.

Add cooked squash, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and enough reserved liquid to achieve desired texture. Mash squash into liquid and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Puree soup in a food processor or blender; return it to pot. Season to taste.

To finish, heat remaining oil, or 3 tablespoons butter, in a small skillet. When oil is hot, fry sage leaves until dark green, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate. Add the bread cubes to pan and cook over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes.

Ladle soup into bowls. Add a handful of croutons to each, 1 or 2 sage leaves and a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper; serve. Makes about 2 quarts.

— Recipe from Deborah Madison, author of "Vegetable Soups From Deborah Madison's Kitchen" (Broadway Books, 2006).