BELLOWS FALLS—One of the best things about autumn is the abundance of produce at our local farm stands and markets. This is the time of bargains: apples by the bushel, zucchini by the foot, and luscious red peppers by the basketful!
They are pricey most of the year, but now is the time for bargains, and a smart cook will enjoy them now and stock up for the winter! Stuff them, sauté them with onions, and serve them atop a bed of rice. Chop them up for the freezer, roast and purée them to make a sauce, and tuck that in the freezer as well.
One dish I love to make when the peppers come in abundance is roasted red pepper soup. It’s simple — oven roasted peppers and onions, stock, and some seasoning, all puréed. But you can also add other ingredients to bulk it up, or cream it out.
Roasting a pepper brings out its sweet side, but this year, I decided to grill the veggies rather than roast them to add a smoky element to the dish. I think I’ll make it this way from here on! That extra layer of smoke turns this dish from everyday to memorable.
You can make this soup with four simple ingredients and quick work with the food processor. Add a potato for bulk, or perhaps a head of fennel for another element of flavor. Something white — dairy or plant — will give a creamy element, and a hot pepper or two will add some zest.
Garnish this soup any way you like, from toasted croutons, an herb oil, a few shavings of Parmesan, or a simple sprinkle of fresh parsley or basil. Or serve it with a big slice of grilled baguette — great for dunking.
Make a double batch; this soup freezes really well, and you’ll love the fresh flavor in mid-February.
Grilled Red Pepper Soup
Load your charcoal grill and bring the coals to nice and white with glowing insides. Spread in an even layer. Scrape any debris off the grates, and oil well to prevent sticking.
Brush liberally with neutral oil:
¶ 6 sweet red peppers, halved, seeded
¶ 1 large sweet onion, sliced thick
¶ 1 head of fennel, cut in half
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place on the grill, giving room to turn. Place the peppers skin side down at first.
Cover the grill but keep an eye on them. When the peppers have charred, turn them. Continue grilling until they are soft. Look for black on the skin side, but do not allow them to burn to pieces. The onions and fennel should be soft and lightly charred as well.
Move the peppers to a bowl and cover them to capture the natural steam, which will release and loosen the charred skins. Once the peppers cool, the skins will peel right off with a gentle rub. This is a good task for kitchen gloves! You don’t need to get every speck of black off the peppers, but you also don’t want to keep a lot of it, or the soup will be bitter.
Place all the grilled veggies in a food processor and add:
¶4 cloves garlic, crushed
Purée to smooth. Pour into a large bowl and add:
¶4 to 6 cups homemade or prepared vegetable stock
How much you’ll need will depend on the size of your vegetables and how thick you want your soup!
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
You have some options from here:
• If you are a purist: Stop here! This is my favorite way to eat it! Enjoy the intense pepper flavor of this easy, low-fat, and low-carb soup.
• If you want a little body building: Add 1 cooked potato to the grilled veggies in the food processor step. This will add some bulk to the soup, but it will not alter the flavor by much. This is a good use for a leftover potato.
• If you like it hot! While grilling the vegetables, toss in 1–2 jalapeño or serrano peppers. Treat them exactly as you do the sweet peppers: char, steam, and strip, but take extra care to wear gloves and not touch your eyes!
• For a creamy version: Add 1 cup or so of coconut milk or light cream if you desire. This makes a lovely creamy soup, but the pepper flavor will be muted ever so slightly.