About 7 months ago, one of my best girlfriends and I went on a mini girl's-only trip to Seattle for a couple of days. We basically ate and shopped our way around downtown- it was a blast! One of my favorite meals we had there was on the last day, a little impromptu lunch at a french bistro. We both had the same thing- red pepper soup with a frisee salad and a slice of french bread with roasted, gooey goat cheese. To say it was simple is an understatement, but it was perfect in it's simplicity. Since then I have been on a quest to make a perfect red pepper soup. I tried doing it the way the waitress at the bistro said they did, with a lot of carrots and simply cooking the raw peppers with the rest of the vegetables. The reviews of my family were lukewarm. They said it was bland and too carroty. So I did a lot of research, looking at my favorite web sites, Epicurious and Food and Wine. Turns out most recipes tell you to roast your peppers first, so that's what I did. On a whim, I also decided to throw a head of garlic in the oven to roast while I got the ingredients together for the soup. The result was a great soup that my 6 year old has asked for again already and it's not even been a week since the first time I made it. It's the perfect soup for summer and would be great hot or cold. You can change it up a bit and make it spicy by adding a bit of red pepper flakes to the carrots and onions while sauteeing. Or add an herb like basil at the end. I think it's just right all on it's own with a salad and a hunk of crusty bread.
Roasted Red Pepper Soup
6 roasted red peppers, skins removed, seeded and coarsely chopped (you can use jarred peppers, but they are so easy to do and the flavor is so much better, why wouldn't you do it yourself? The method is after the soup recipe)
1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup)
3 medium carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
1 head garlic
1/2 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes or 2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
Pre-heat oven to 400. Slice the top 1/4 inch from the head of garlic, place the head on a square of aluminum foil and drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top. Wrap the foil around the garlic and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes. You will smell the garlic's sweet aroma and the cloves will be golden and soft. I actually like a bit more garlic so I throw a few extra cloves still in the skin into the package along with the whole head.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tbs. olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Saute the carrots and onions until they are soft and lightly golden, about 6 minutes. Add in the peppers, any juices from the peppers, the tomatoes, the chicken broth, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20-25 minutes. The vegetables will be extremely tender. Squeeze the roasted garlic into the pot with the soup. Puree the soup in batches in a blender. CAUTION, hot foods release a large amount of steam when blended. Always cover the blender with its lid and then hold it down using an oven mitt or kitchen towel with your hand. You will thank me for this bit of advice- you won't get burned by the steam and your counter won't be covered in soup when the blender lid flies off! Alternately, you can blend the soup right in the pot if you have an immersion blender. For a silkier texture, you can press the soup through a fine-meshed sieve, but I think it's just fine the way it is.
Roasting the Peppers
There are a few ways to roast peppers, it depends on what you have available. Personally, I find the easiest way to do it is right on top of the gas burners of my stove, but you can also use a grill or the broiler of your oven. You just wash and dry the peppers, then place them over the flame (or under the broiler on a cookie sheet). Keeping a close eye on them, turn them when the skins become blackened and charred. When the peppers are roasted all the way around, put them a zip top bag and let them cool off. When cooled, peel off the skins, cut off the tops and pull out any seeds inside. Save the juices that collect inside the pepper, they're loaded with flavor.
There are so many uses for these peppers, I can only name a few here. Top grilled bread with them and a smear of goat cheese or ricotta. Put them in a grilled chicken sandwich or on a burger. Throw them in a salad. Make this wonderful soup.