Thursday, November 11, 2010

Flame-Charred Red Pepper Soup with Roasted All-Red Potatoes and Carrots

Dean the "Pepper Guy" at our local farmers market has had a wonderful selection of sweet, hot, hotter and hottest peppers this fall.  And while this summer our local farmers had a tough time due to the weather, peppers and tomatoes have been enjoying a late and extended season.
I love stopping at his stand and talking to him about the different flavors and heat his peppers will impart to food.  And while I'm not brave enough to sample the really hot, hot peppers, I have tried a few that are fairly spicy, flavorful (the best part), but not hot enough to slay my palate.

This soup was made using long, sweet Italian red peppers and one slightly spicy, long red NuMex variety pepper whose name escapes me and I will have to wait until Saturday to ask "Pepper Guy".  (I know: not enough research.)

No matter.  What does matter is that you seek out peppers you like and use them.  Please char and peel them first or you will have annoying, tough little pepper skins floating in your soup.  Little bits of softer charred skin are okay though; it shows what lengths you went to to please your people.

The potatoes (known as All-Red or Cranberry Red) and carrots round out the flavors and give the soup thickness and heartiness; just right for the season.

There is a bit of advanced preparation needed, but it can all be done quickly and pretty much at the same time.  The head of garlic, sprinkled with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt, goes into the oven with the pan of potatoes and carrots while the peppers are charring on the top burners.  After you've finished all that, the rest is a snap. And please do use a full head of garlic. Roasting reduces it to a sublime, sweet, nutty richness which dramatically enhances the flavors of this soup.

Flame-Charred Red Pepper Soup with Roasted All-Red Potatoes and Carrots
Christine's original recipe
(print recipe here)
5 long (abt. 8-inches) sweet red Italian peppers, charred, skin and seeds removed
1 long red, mildly hot pepper (not too hot), charred, skin and seeds removed
1 head garlic, roasted (at least 10 cloves)
3 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch dice
3 medium All-Red (also called Cranberry) potatoes, or other low-starch potato such as Yukon Gold, peeled, cut into 1-inch dice
1 large bay leaf, fresh or dried
4 - 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock, home made or low-sodium
small amount of olive oil for the garlic and the roasting pan
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup dry white wine (optional - I just like to cook with wine)

Peel the potatoes and carrots, dice them and put them in a small baking pan with a drizzle of olive oil to keep them from sticking to the pan. Cover the pan with foil and roast in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes. Remove the foil during the last 10 minutes of roasting so the vegetables can brown a bit. Remove from oven, loosen pieces from the pan with a spatula, set aside.

At the same time, remove the outer skin from the head of garlic and trim the roots but don't cut through to the cloves. Place the garlic head in a small lidded, oven-proof container, drizzle it with a tiny amount of olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt. Place in the oven with the lid on, alongside the pan of potatoes and carrots and roast until the cloves are very tender; this may take a little longer than the vegetables. Remove from the oven, remove the lid and allow to cool until you can easily handle them with your fingers. Pull the skins from the now-succulent garlic cloves and set aside.

While all this roasting is going on, place your peppers directly onto the burners of a gas stove on high heat. They will immediately begin to blister which will loosen the skin so you can remove it.  Using tongs, turn the peppers as they blister and char until the entire surface looks, well, blistered and charred.  Don't let them turn totally black - that's just too much charring.  The photo at left, while it is not a sweet Italian pepper, is a good example. As soon as they are done, pop them into a large paper bag, fold the top of the bag down, and let the peppers rest within for about 12 minutes.

Along about this time, place 4 cups of chicken stock in the large soup pot. Add the bay leaf and garlic cloves and bring the stock to a gentle simmer.  (If you want this soup to be vegetarian or vegan, you can substitute vegetable broth or water for the chicken stock. (See Cook's Notes).
Remove the peppers from their paper bag and, using a sharp paring knife, scrape the skin from each pepper. This is a messy job and will enwrap your fingers with charred pepper skins. You can rinse your fingers and knife under cool running water, but please don't run the peppers under the water as you will wash away their delicious flavor. I am of the school that a bit of pepper char is a good thing; its presence imparts character, of sorts.
Peeling done, slice the peppers from stem to stern (length-wise), open them up and remove all the seeds and the stem end.
Chop the peppers into about 1-inch square pieces and pop them into the stock.
Add the potatoes and carrots to the stock now, pour in a little white wine if desired, check for seasoning and add kosher salt and ground black pepper as desired.
Give the soup a stir and simmer for 45 minutes to one hour. Be gentle; don't allow the soup to boil.
Check and adjust seasonings again, turn off the heat and allow the soup to cool for about 15 minutes.
Using an immersion blender or your food processor, blend the soup until no chunks remain and the texture is coarsely smooth.  If the soup is too thick, now would be the time to incorporate more stock.
Heat the soup to serving temperature on a heat-spreader over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
If you happen to be as lucky as Mr CC and I are, Simona's flax seed baguette goes delightfully well with this warming, hearty soup.


Cook's Notes:
When using vegetable stock or broth, be careful that the flavor won't overpower that of the peppers in the soup.  Some vegetable stocks use too much green pepper and celery and therefore will change forever what you are trying to achieve.  And what we are trying to achieve here is fresh, flavorful red pepper soup, right?

Ahem: One doesn't have to be too terribly observant to see that there is a sprig of thyme in the top soup photo but nary a mention of thyme in the post.  And that's because there is no thyme in this recipe.  The thyme sprig happened to be sitting on my kitchen counter because I was actually preparing two separate dishes on the same day; one, of course, using thyme.  What can I say?  I got mixed up.

Just what is a drizzle of olive oil?  For me, it's enough to barely coat the bottom of a pan in order to keep food from sticking.  I'd say it's about 1/2 teaspoon.  But I never measure so I can't be certain.

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