Red Pepper Bisque
Source: Linda Carucci, COPIA, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts.
This recipe comes from Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks (Chronicle Books, 2006).
For the past several years, this has been the workhorse recipe I use in my Cooking Basics classes to teach the concept of seasoning to taste. It’s a fairly simple recipe for beginner cooks to replicate at home. A bisque (pronounced bisk) is a smooth, puréed soup, often made with seafood, and usually enriched with cream. When made with lobster or shrimp, a bisque is sometimes thickened or enriched by adding a tablespoon or so of raw white rice when the stock is added. The rice disintegrates as the soup cooks, releasing its starch and thickening the soup in the process. Given the texture of peppers or mushrooms, it’s not necessary to add rice to a bisque made with either of these vegetables, but a little cream goes a long way to enhance the “mouth-feel” of a bell pepper or mushroom bisque. To enhance the satisfying sensation of umami, this vegetable bisque is prepared with chicken stock. But, if you prefer a vegetarian soup, simply substitute commercial or homemade vegetable broth for the chicken stock. The amount of salt you’ll need when seasoning to taste depends on the saltiness of your stock.
Serves 4 to 6
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped (if you don’t plan to strain the soup, peel celery before chopping)
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 medium red bell peppers (about 1 ¾ pounds), stemmed, seeded, and chopped into 1-inch pieces
About 4 cups chicken stock, homemade or low-sodium, if canned
¼ cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
About ⅔ cup crème fraîche or sour cream, stirred to a smooth consistency, for garnish
- Place a heavy 4-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. When oil is hot enough to sizzle a piece of carrot, add the carrots, onions, and celery. Sauté until carrots turn bright orange and onions become translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir in ¼ teaspoon of the cayenne pepper and add the bell peppers. When the peppers start to soften, after about 5 minutes, add enough stock to just cover the vegetables and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until carrots and peppers are soft, about 30 minutes.
- In a stand blender, purée soup in batches until very smooth: Blend just 2 cups at a time and hold down the blender lid as you slowly increase and decrease the speed. Alternatively, purée with an immersion blender. If desired, strain puréed soup through a medium-mesh strainer into a clean pot. As you strain the soup, extract as much pulp as possible from the solids by pressing on them with the bottom of a ladle.
- Stir in heavy cream and season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper, as well as additional cayenne pepper, if desired. If necessary, reheat soup over low heat, stirring constantly. Ladle soup into warm bowls and drizzle with crème fraîche or garnish with a dollop of sour cream.
Substitute unseasoned Roasted Peppers–red, yellow or green–for the raw bell peppers. If you plan to strain the soup, you needn’t peel the peppers after roasting them.
• This recipe calls for ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper. The smaller amount will simply add a note of complexity without the heat. More makes the soup spicy.
• If you double a recipe that calls for spicy-hot ingredients such as cayenne pepper, don’t double the spicy ingredients. The capsaicin (pronounced cap-SAY-ih-sin), which gives cayenne and other hot spices their heat, increases exponentially as you add more of the spice. Start with “one times” the cayenne, and, if desired, add more when you season the soup at the end.
• Dairy products such as cream and yogurt mitigate spicy heat. As an eye-catching counterpoint to the cayenne, garnish this soup with a drizzle of crème fraîche (pronounced crem fresh) or a dollop of sour cream. For homemade crème fraîche, see the recipe at the end.
• As with most soups, this bisque tastes better the next day. If you prepare it a day ahead, season with salt and pepper, but don’t add the cream until you reheat the soup.
Homemade Crème Fraiche
Crème fraîche (pronounced crem fresh) is rich tasting, thick, European-style sour cream that’s used to garnish everything from hors d’oeuvre to soups to desserts. In her well-documented book Nourishing Traditions, nutrition researcher Sally Fallon cites a variety of health benefits from eating cultured dairy products such as crème fraîche. Look for crème fraîche in the dairy case of well-stocked supermarkets. Or, it’s quite simple and inexpensive to make your own. Just be sure to plan ahead, as homemade crème fraîche can take up to 48 hours to thicken sufficiently. Combine 1 cup pure (with no additives and preferably not ultra-pasteurized) heavy cream with 2 tablespoons cultured, whole-milk buttermilk in a clean crock or glass jar. Stir, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours, until mixture is no longer runny. It should be thick enough to fall from a spoon in a clump rather than in a ribbon. Refrigerate crème fraîche for up to 2 weeks.