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Smoky Red Pepper Soup

Thickened with lightly dried bread crumbs and garnished with capers and anchovies, this coarsely textured pureed soup has a distinctly Spanish leaning–a kind of winter gazpacho. The crumbs are easily made by tearing the bread into pieces and whirling them in a food processor until reduced to coarse crumbs. If you have only fresh bread, dry the slices by placing them in the preheating oven for a few minutes until they barely begin to color.

Yellow bell peppers make an equally attractive and flavorful soup. Spanish smoked paprika has a depth of flavor not found in other varieties. It is sold in many markets and also in specialty-food stores. If it is unavailable, substitute the best-quality medium-heat paprika you can find.

Ingredients:

  • 4 roasted red bell peppers (see related tip
     at left)
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh marjoram, plus 8 sprigs for
      garnish (optional)
  • 1 Tbs. paprika, preferably Spanish smoked
     paprika
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup coarse bread crumbs from day-old French
      bread, crusts removed
  • 4 olive oil–packed anchovy fillets
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable
     stock
  • 4 tsp. small capers

Directions:

Peel and seed the roasted red bell peppers, capturing the juices in a bowl. Cut the peppers into pieces. Set aside.

Preheat an oven to 450°F.

Place the onion slices on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with the garlic, chopped marjoram and paprika. Season lightly with salt and generously with pepper. Drizzle with the olive oil, then stir to coat the onions completely and spread them out on the baking sheet. Roast, stirring often, until the onions are golden and soft, 15 to 20 minutes.

Working in batches if necessary, in a food processor, combine the bell peppers and their juices with the onions and process until a coarse puree forms. Add the bread crumbs and 2 of the anchovies, then process again just to a coarse puree. Add 2 cups of the stock and puree again. Pour into a saucepan along with the remaining 2 cups stock, set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring often. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper, and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes to blend the flavors.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls. Cut the remaining 2 anchovies lengthwise into 4 pieces each and float 1 slice in each bowl of soup. Sprinkle evenly with the capers and garnish each bowl with a marjoram sprig. Serve immediately. Serves 8.

Variation: To make a cold smoky red pepper soup, let the soup cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until well chilled, about 4 hours. Taste and adjust the seasonings and ladle into chilled bowls. Garnish as directed for the hot soup.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Roasting, by Rick Rodgers, Melanie Barnard & Bob & Colleen Simmons (Oxmoor House, 2004).