Grilled as you like it

Roasted tomato and red pepper soup August 29, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Four seasons in Japan,Japan,recipes — laurel @ 6:28 pm
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fresh local tomatoes, red peppers, onion, and carrot

The hot summer weather means that my local produce market is full of cheap tomatoes. Unlike farmer’s markets in the US, where you can buy a large variety of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes in many colors, my local market stocks just a few types of tomatoes. There are cherry tomatoes, medium size red tomatoes, and most are a large, green shouldered pink-skinned variety. Another difference about my produce market is that most of the vegetables come from within my prefecture, and many are even grown just within my city. Imagine going to the store and being able to choose from 10 farms’ tomatoes that all came from within your county!

Lately the weather has gone from hot and humid to gray and rainy, so I’ve been wanting to warm up with some soup. Last Monday, we were having a friend over, so I wanted to make a dinner that wasn’t going to require too much time and attention, so I decided it would be a good occasion for grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. The truth is, I’ve been trying tomato soup recipes for years, and I hadn’t found any that I wanted to make again; they’re too sour, too gummy from the thickening starch, not flavorful enough or too heavily seasoned with spices. So I tossed out all my recipes and just went for it on instinct.

As soon as I got home, I quartered some tomatoes, peeled some garlic, and popped them in a baking dish with some rosemary, thyme, salt, and olive oil. After the peppers were baking, I fire roasted some peppers on the stove and tossed them into a lidded bowl to steam. Next, I got out my Dutch oven to sweat some onion and carrot. While the onion and carrot were cooking, I peeled and chopped the roasted peppers. At this point, the onions and carrots were softened and the tomatoes were starting to dry and brown on the edges so everything went into the pot along with a generous splash of sake (because that’s what I had, feel free to use wine, sherry, or maybe even beer), some water (homemade stock would be a tasty substitute here), and herbs. After a brief simmer, I pureed it smooth. The flavor was pretty good, but I added a spoonful of brown sugar to cut the tartness of the tomatoes.

I really liked the finished soup: it had great flavor from the roasted vegetables and sweetness from the onions and carrots. I forgot to add some potato or bread to thicken the soup, but I found that with enough vegetables it wasn’t really necessary. There are plenty of opportunities to personalize the flavor of the soup too: stir some sour cream or cream into the finished soup, top with pesto or cheese, season with herbs, spices, citrus zest, or smoked salt. With a salad and grilled cheese toasts it was a perfect comforting dinner.

roasted tomato and red pepper soup with grilled cheese toasts and basil

Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup
by Laurel S

4 large, very ripe tomatoes
3 red bell peppers or other sweet peppers
6 cloves garlic
1 large yellow onion
1 carrot
¼ to ½ cup sake or wine
2 bay leaves
fresh rosemary and thyme
2 bay leaves
chicken stock or water
brown sugar

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut the tomatoes in quarters and remove the stem. Place in a baking dish (9 x 9-inch or 9 x 13-inch) in a single layer, skin side down. Peel the garlic cloves and trim off the bottom end. Scatter the garlic cloves among the tomatoes. Tuck a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme among the tomatoes. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Use your fingers to spread the olive oil, coating the tomatoes, herbs, and garlic. Place the tomatoes in the oven and roast for approximately 45 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened and browned a bit on the tops and some of the liquid has evaporated. The time to roast the tomatoes may vary, so check on them occasionally to see if they are cooking too quickly or slowly, adjusting the temperature or cooking time as necessary.

Next, use metal tongs to hold the bell peppers over a gas flame to roast them. You want to hold the peppers as close as possible, or even in the flame. Alternatively, if you don’t have gas burners, you can roast the peppers at high heat in your oven broiler. When the skins of the peppers have blackened and blistered all over, put them in a bowl and put a lid on top to trap the steam. Set aside for now.

Chop the onion and carrot into small dice. Place a large, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil, and then the onion and carrot. Sprinkle the vegetables with a pinch or two of salt and stir. Allow the vegetables to cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and translucent.

While the vegetables are cooking, peel the peppers. They should be cool enough to handle by now, so take them one at a time and rub off the blackened skin with your fingers. You may need to have a bowl of water handy to rinse your fingers with. The juice of the peppers is very flavorful, so try not to rinse the peppers themselves if you can avoid it. After you’ve removed the skins from the outside of the peppers, split them open and discard the seeds. Finally, chop the peppers and add them to the onions and carrots.

When the tomatoes have finished cooking, remove the rosemary and thyme sprigs. Make sure the garlic hasn’t become too brown. If the garlic looks crispy and bitter, cut off the overcooked parts. Then pour the tomatoes, garlic, and any olive oil and tomato juices from the pan into the saucepan. Add a generous splash of some kind of alcohol to the mix. Add some water to the tomato baking dish and scrape away at any browned bits stuck to the baking dish (again, avoid the really burned stuff), then pour the liquid into the saucepan. Add several cups of water or chicken stock until the consistency is like a chunky soup; don’t add too much liquid now though, you can always add more later. Now add your herbs: a bay leaf or two, some fresh rosemary, thyme, and maybe parsley or celery all tied together with string so that they’ll be easy to fish out later.

Simmer the soup for at least 15 minutes. Puree the soup in batches in a blender until it is very smooth. Return the soup to the saucepan and reheat. Check the consistency: if the soup is too thick, add some more water or stock; if it’s too thin, continue cooking until it thickens. Taste and season with salt and pepper. If the soup is tart, add a spoonful or two of brown sugar. Serve hot, preferably with grilled cheese.

*I also tried to make this soup again by roasting all of the vegetables together in the baking pan to save some steps and use less dishes. I think this approach could work if your pan is large enough to spread the vegetables into a single layer with plenty of room for the hot air to circulate between them. In my little 9 by 9 –inch pan in my tiny Japanese oven, the vegetables were too crowded so they didn’t roast very well. If you have a big oven and a half-sheet pan, it might work well though.

copyright 2008 LMS


One Response to “Roasted tomato and red pepper soup”

  1. Josh Maxwell Says:

    Great Blog post. I am going to bookmark and read more often. I love the Blog template if you need any assistance customizing it let me know!

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