Sunday, April 7, 2013

Roasted Pepper Soup

While it is said that necessity is often the mother of invention, it can also be said that abundance is often the inspiration of creation. So, when there was an entire case of beautiful orange peppers at the farm market at $3.99 for the taking, the question was now what to do with them all! Among the infinite possibilities, soup seemed to be a natural choice.

Cooking the peppers themselves could have been achieved by blanching or steaming, but roasting the peppers is always a favorite method. The roasting brings out the sweetness and really deepens the flavor. These pepper were small – sort of “banana” shaped, and they roasted nicely in a grill pan on top of the stove.

This soup could be made just as well with red or yellow peppers, too. Roasting the peppers took the most time, but I actually ended up doing that task the day before when I had other work to do in the kitchen and it was no bother to have another burner going. It also helps to have either a standard or immersion blender for this soup, as the softened vegetables need to be pureed. But once the peppers have been roasted, the soup comes together quickly and delivers a rich, creamy pepper flavor.

Roasted Pepper Soup
16-20 small orange, red, or yellow peppers (use half as many if using bell peppers)
3 TBSP butter
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups vegetable stock (can also use chicken stock if you prefer)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup half and half

The first thing you need to do is roast the peppers. There are a number of ways you can do this. I used a cast iron grill pan over low heat on the top of my electric stove. If you don’t have a grill pan you could use a regular cast iron or other heavy bottom skillet. You could also do this on your gas grill. Take care to do this over low heat and let the peppers char (blister) on each side. It is going to take a while so be patient – you want them roasted, not burnt! After the peppers have roasted, transfer them to a heat-proof bowl and cover with plastic wrap. When the peppers cool, you will be able to easily slide the outer skins off.

After removing the outer skin (some people leave this on, but I think it has a bit of a bitter taste so I remove), cut the stem off the top of the pepper and with a sharp knife slice down the side of the pepper so as to open it up completely. Once open, you can easily scrape the seeds out and then roughly chop the peppers.  Set the cleaned and chopped peppers aside.

In a large pot, melt butter and sauté onion and garlic until soft – about 5/6 minutes. Add vegetable stock, peppers, salt and pepper to pot. Bring to a simmer and cover. Let simmer for 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and uncover. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.

Working in small batches, transfer some of the contents of the pot to a blender (a couple ladles worth). BE VERY CAREFUL when blending hot liquids – do not overfill the blender! As a precaution, I hold a towel over the top of the blender when I turn it on. Puree contents and transfer to bowl. Repeat as necessary until all the contents of the pot have been pureed.

Take about two cups of the puree and put in a separate bowl. Add half and half to this smaller amount and stir well. Return the rest of the puree mixture to the pot. Transfer the puree-half and half mixture to the pot and combine with the rest. CHECK FOR SEASONING – if you need to add more salt and pepper this is the time to do it. Over low heat, gradually bring soup back up to a hot temperature – do not boil! Serve immediately. Garnish with fresh basil or parsley leaves.

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