Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Summer Corn
The sheer quantity of produce that passes through our small kitchen during the course of a week can be, well, unnerving – to say the least. But somewhere between the panic and exhaustion that comes from tackling such a mountain of fruits and veggies, something odd happens. In addition to the boxes of farm fresh produce from our CSA, and baskets I bring in from the garden, we have been buying produce by the case full from whole foods during their frequent summertime sales. Maybe we are just crazy (and I think there is a good likelihood of this being the case) but this undertaking has led to important changes in the way we cook, in the way we approach purchasing produce, and in our understanding of a whole slew of fruits and veggies.
Its no wonder that our Grandmothers, and their mothers before them, were/are such formidable cooks. There is a strange intimacy that comes from taking on 25 pounds of peaches, from tackling a bushel of peak summer tomatoes, or even from trying to keep pace with an ever growing population of summer squash. In peeling, dicing, pitting, skinning, shocking, jamming, baking, roasting, charring, etc, etc… you learn the many ways in which a fruit or vegetable can be used, and discover some of the subtle flavor and cooking nuances of the specific variety. Simply as a means of creating diversity in dealing with an unending and often unchanging wealth of summer crops, the seasonal chef must adapt different techniques and apply varied flavor profiles to a given fruit or veggie. With a wealth of information at our fingertips via the world wide web we are fortunate to have an amazing array of recipes to choose from at the click of a button. Our ancestors didn’t have it so easy.
Our grandmothers and their mothers, and their mothers before them relied on cooking techniques and preservation methods passed down through generations. Since the dawn of cultivation, farmers have worked throughout the harvest season to preserve peak season bounty for the colder months. In fact, practices of freezing (in cold glacial environments), fermenting, and drying date back to 10,000-12,000 BC. Practices of curing, with salt and then oil and sugar, followed these first preservation techniques. Canning was initially developed in Napoleonic wars when the French Royalty offered a bounty to anyone who could devise a method of preserving foods for long distance transport to the battlefields. Curiously it was not until Louis Pasteur made important discoveries about microbial organisms that the French understood why the canning technique developed earlier actually functioned to prevent food decay and food-born illness.
Indeed, we in the penchant for produce kitchen have turned to food preservation from time to time to tackle an unruly crop of cucumbers or glut of okra. But some vegetables are just too tempting to put up for later use. Enter the red bell pepper – one of my all-time favorite vegetables (second only to carrots, which hold a key corner in my veggie loving heart.) The red bell is a beauty to work with. It can be roasted and cured for sandwiches, charred and diced for salsa, it makes a keen addition to hummus, and all of that is, of course, considering you can resist the temptation to bite into its sweet crunchy flesh. OK, that sounded a bit morbid – but you get the point. These are the bells of the summer ball. Right up there in the running for Veggie Patch Prom Queen with the fan favorite, the tomato.
Both of the aforementioned contenders – tomato, and bell pepper, make an appearance in this delightful summer soup. The tomatoes and bells, once charred and roasted, are pureed to a beautifully smooth soup along with roasted shallots and garlic. The result is a soup that is creamy without the addition of any dairy. Sweet with no sugar, and beautifully smoky from the roasting and hint of paprika. It is topped off with a gremolata of sorts made from summer corn, shallots and herbs that gives the soup a sweet pop of summer flavor.
Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Summer Corn (adapted from a similar recipe found on Food 52)
4 Red Bell Peppers, Cut in Half and Seeded
1.5 Pounds Heirloom Tomatoes, Tough Parts of Stem End Removed, Quartered
8 Large Unpeeled Garlic Cloves
4 Shallots, Halved
2-3 Cups High Quality Chicken Stock (Preferably Home Made) At a Low Simmer (lid to keep from evaporating)
1/4 TSP Hot Smoked Paprika
1/2 TSP Aged Sherry Vinegar
2 Ears Sweet Summer Corn, Shucked, Hairs Removed, Cut From the Cob
1 Shallot Finely Minced
1 TBSP Chopped Fresh Thyme
1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Cilantro
Salt and Pepper to Taste
High Quality Olive Oil for Serving
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place Halved Peppers in a large mixing bowl along with tomatoes, garlic, and shallots and add just enough olive oil to give a light coat. Sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper, mix well and place in a single layer on a sheet pan (use 2 if too crowded.) Roast in the oven for 45-60 mins, rotating every 15 minutes to ensure even roasting. At the 45 minute mark, if the shallots and garlic appear quite browned but the peppers are not yet well charred, remove the shallots and garlic from the pan and continue roasting for the last 15 minutes, or until the tomato and pepper skins are charred.
Once the tomatoes and peppers are sufficiently charred, remove the pan from the oven. Place the tomatoes and peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam. Steam the tomatoes and peppers for 5 minutes before peeling them. Reserve any juices that collect on the roasting pan (if not too charred) and in the bowl.
Holding the tomatoes over the sink, remove the worst of the seeds and place them in a blender along with the red peppers. Remove any remaining peel from the roasted shallots and roughly chop. Peel the garlic and add to the blender along with the chopped shallots. Add any accumulated juices, and 2 cups of the stock, smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt, and blend until completely smooth. Taste, if too thick add additional broth as needed – remembering that the corn will be added in at the end. add sherry vinegar to taste and set aside.
Place shallot in a bowl along with the corn, thyme, and cilantro. Stir to combine. Pour soup into serving bowls and top with a spoonful or two of the corn mixture and a light drizzle of olive oil and serve.