Lately the early mornings have been surprisingly cool. The boughs of the crab apple tree are bent almost to the ground with heavy clusters of ripening red fruit. And is it my imagination or are the rabbits in the herb garden sporting fluffier fur coats?
Yes, summer is slipping away, but at the market last weekend, peppers were at their peak. Some were green but fiery hot, like the New Mexican Hatch relatives, while others were sweet, though glowing in luminous shades of red and yellow.
If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll find someone like Alex (who roasts peppers to order) at your market.
Amazingly, we are still getting gorgeous ripe heirloom tomatoes. The big red beefsteaks, round golden globes and pretty Pink Girls are flavor-packed and dripping with juice.
All this adds up to a delicious soup that tips its hat to summer, but looks forward to fall. Not only is it delicious—the sun-warmed flavor of the raw tomatoes gets a savory kick from the sweet and smoky taste of the roasted peppers—but it’s beautiful to look at, as well.
I’d like to say that it’s also effortless, but that will depend on who’s roasting the peppers.
I love to make this soup with ripe Corno di Toro peppers, both red and yellow. Slightly curved and pointed like the “horn of a bull,” they are said to be heirlooms, brought to America by Italian immigrants. Their sweet flavor, fleshy “walls” and relatively few seeds make them an ideal choice for roasting.
But if Corno di Toro peppers are elusive, you could substitute sweet Bell peppers. Skip the green and dark purple ones as they’ll turn this bright soup an unpleasantly murky hue: Red, yellow or orange peppers will keep the color sunny.
Roasting the peppers, if you’re doing it yourself, will take a little time but your reward will be a kitchen or back garden perfumed with that mouthwatering, smoky aroma that I always associate with the coming of cooler weather. Roast them just until the skin is blistered, either outside on the grill, or inside using the flame from the gas burner. (Go here for directions.) Don’t char them, as they may turn bitter.
Either way, you must rub off the skins and remove the seeds before proceeding.
The basic soup is simplicity itself: Just blend the peeled and seeded peppers with a roasted onion or two, and chunks of the juicy ripe tomatoes until you have a very smooth puree. Add salt, lemon juice and chopped basil or other herbs to taste. Drizzle a little olive oil on top and serve at room temperature.
But if you want to get fancy, you can experiment with the temperature of the soup and the contents of your pantry. I like the very gently heated soup—for heaven’s sake don’t even bring it to a simmer—with a little grated orange zest and, for a little zing, either a finely chopped, roasted serrano pepper or a sprinkle of flakey Maras biber (pepper) from Istanbul, which is both hot and tangy. A splash of umami-rich Vietnamese fish sauce will deepen and round the flavor.
For cold soup, make the base using chopped herbs: parsley, dill, basil or mint, or any combination thereof. A little tarragon might be tasty as well. Refrigerate and serve with a dollop of sour cream or thick creamy yogurt.
Now isn’t that easy? If only the rest of the year would go as smoothly…
Roasted Sweet Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Soup with Citrus, Basil and Turkish Pepper
My apologies: I omitted the roasted onions, a key ingredient, when posting this recipe a few days ago. The onions add a crucial sweetness to the soup and should certainly not be left out. I’ve added them in italics in the recipe below.
Serves 3 to 4 people
Ingredients for the basic soup:
2 cups of roasted peppers, peeled and seeded
6 sweet red and yellow Italian peppers, such as Corno di Toro, or 3 red, yellow or orange Bell peppers
2 small to medium red onions, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 pounds ripe, very juicy heirloom tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
Lemon juice, to taste
Sea salt to taste
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
Olive oil for drizzling
Optional seasonings for warm soup:
1 orange for zesting
1 roasted jalapeno or serrano pepper, peeled and seeded
Maras biber pepper, or any other flaky or ground hot pepper
¼ teaspoon Vietnamese fish sauce
Basil sprigs and flowers for garnish
Optional seasonings for cold soup:
½ cup basil, mint, parsley or dill (or any combination thereof), finely chopped
Sour cream or yoghurt for serving
Method for the basic soup:
1. If using freshly roasted peppers: Rub off the blistered skins, then cut or tear off the stem end and open up the pepper so that you can remove the seeds. There should be two cups of roasted peppers.
2. If roasting your own, go here for instructions. (Include a serrano or jalapeno pepper, if using). It’s important not to char the peppers as they may turn bitter; just blister the skins so that they can be easily removed after steaming in a plastic bag. Once the peppers have cooled slightly, peel and seed them as above. Again, there should be two cups.
3. Roast the red onions, rubbed with a little olive oil, in the same way, either on the grill or over a flame on the stove until they are soft and slightly charred. Let them cool slightly and then chop coarsely.
4. In a blender, whirr the roasted, peeled and seeded peppers until very smooth. Add the chopped onions and tomatoes and blend again until smooth.
5. Pour the pepper-tomato puree into a bowl. Stir in lemon juice and sea salt to taste. Stir in the chopped basil leaves. Drizzle with a little olive oil and serve at room temperature.
Method for the warm soup:
1. Prepare the basic soup through step 2.
2. Pour the soup into a medium saucepan. Very gently heat the soup over the lowest flame just until warm. Do not simmer or boil.
3. When warm, remove from the heat. Stir in lemon juice, sea salt and fish sauce, if using. Taste and correct seasonings, if necessary.
4. Stir in the chopped basil and the roasted serrano pepper, if using.
5. Pour the soup into individual bowls for serving. Grate a little orange zest over the soup, and sprinkle with maras biber or other flaky or ground pepper (if using) to taste. Drizzle with a little olive oil and garnish with basil leaves and flowers. Serve at once.
Method for the cold soup:
1. Prepare the basic soup through step 2.
2. Pour the soup into a large bowl. Add lemon juice and sea salt to taste. Stir in ½ cup chopped herbs of your choice. Refrigerate until cold.
3. When ready to serve, pour the soup into individual bowls. Drizzle with a little olive oil and serve with a dollop of sour cream or thick creamy yoghurt.