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Red bell pepper bisque

In autumn, late summer, soup on 20 March, 2011 at 11:55 pm

I’m conscious that I’ve been eating a lot of sugar lately (just look at the last few blog posts for proof). Call it disaster-triggered comfort eating or whatever, but over recent weeks I’ve been victim to one too many cake-batter-induced tummyaches and sugar-overload sore throats. Dessert for dinner just doesn’t have the same appeal when you do it several nights in a row.*

Things came to a head last week when I made this amazing semolina-cashew slice and Could Not Stop Eating it. I swore I’d lay off the sugar the next day and was doing so well at work, passing up cookies at morning tea, having a salad for lunch, not reaching for that bar of emergency chocolate hanging out in my desk drawer. I was full of this triumphant sense of accomplishment until I got home and… oh hello leftover semolina slice!**

So I’ve been trying to balance out the sugar with reasonably healthy things. Like soup. I know I’ve been whining about the end of summer for the last few blog posts*** but I’m actually harbouring this secret excitement for cooler weather and autumn (I won’t dare say I’m excited for winter, but close enough) and SOUP.

If there’s ever a soup that can be both spicy and soothing at the same time, it’s this one. It adeptly bridges the gap between summer and cooler weather: the flavours are bright and bursting with height-of-summer-ripeness, but at the same time it’s earthy and robust and the cayenne pepper adds enough heat to warm you from the inside on a cold rainy day. (This soup is also really good served cold at lunchtime, ideally on a sunny deck or balcony, maybe garnished with some chopped parsley.)

The recipe is from this book my mum got me called Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks. It’s full of consistently accessible (and good!) recipes and informative sidebars full of tips and tricks but no photos, which is somewhat unusual for cookbooks these days but, you know, all good. It’s been one of my favourite cookbooks over the years and this is one of the first recipes I ever made from it.

Though the page is dotted with bright orange splatter-marks I hardly need to look at the recipe anymore, it’s so simple: red capsicums cooked with the holy trinity of carrot, onion, celery, plus a bit of cayenne pepper for heat and a bit of cream for… creaminess. You don’t really need to think much while making this, which makes it the perfect recipe for getting back into the soup groove.

*Dessert for dinner is still awesome though.

**I am going to start over this week, er, well, after the waffle breakfast we’re having at work tomorrow!

***although summer is clearly still not over, seeing as I’m typing this sitting on my balcony, no sleeves, bare feet.

recipe from Linda Carucci’s Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks

You will need:
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
cayenne pepper
4 red capsicums, seeded, deribbed & roughly chopped
1 litre chicken stock (ideally homemade, but anything goes)
1/4 cup cream
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
crème fraîche

Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a decent-sized pot over medium-high heat, add the onion, carrot and celery and saute for several minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. Add 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper and the capsicum, give it a good couple of stirs and let the capsicum cook for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock (you may not use the whole litre, the idea is you want enough stock to cover all the vegetables in the pot). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer about 30 minutes.

At this stage the capsicum and carrots should be nice and soft and cooked. Take the pan off the heat and blend until smooth (a stick blender works perfectly here but do as you please), then strain through a medium-mesh sieve.* Smush the pulpy bits with a spatula or ladle to squeeze the last bits of liquid out.**

Add 1/4 cup cream and salt and pepper to taste. If you want it spicier go ahead and add a little bit more cayenne pepper but beware that this stuff increases exponentially in heat (this book is full of these fun facts!). Garnish with a big spoonful of crème fraîche***, drizzle with olive oil, crack some black pepper over the top, eat!

If you have any left over the next day, it is just as good (if not better, depending on the weather) straight out of the fridge.


*If you’re feeling lazy you can skip this step but the silky-smooth texture of the strained soup is totally worth it.

**For what it’s worth, I found this step oddly reminiscent of making pâté…

***OK, so it’s just a garnish, but the crème fraîche definitely takes this to another level. Especially if you strained the soup. The combination of the silky-spiciness and the silky-cool-creaminess is so ridiculously dreamy.

  1. What gorgeous pics! And the soup sounds pretty good too…it is the perfect “first” soup as comforting but still delivering a little bit of Summer.

  2. I love the colour! Argh, I know what you mean about sugar overload, I love the stuff but it does get me down a bit, I hate that feeling when you’ve just eaten way too much sugar and there’s nothing you can do but ride it out by lying on the couch groaning in trackpants.

    This soup sounds so stunning, and yeah, there don’t seem to be too many sidebar-friendly cookbooks these days – if I’m honest, I’d tend to steer clear of cookbooks that had them but any book with a recipe like this in it must be a gem.

  3. So much <3 for winter soups! This one looks so yum, I used to make a roast tomato and bell pepper bisque and this recipe makes me want it again sooooo badly!!

  4. What makes something a bisque exactly? Is there any rule? Is it another word for soup? A creamy soup perhaps? This looks magnificent. I want it right now but it’s going to have to wait til I go to the market at least. Hmmm…what to have for lunch.

  5. I love capsicum soup particularly chilled. I’m thinking of adding Harissa to my next pot since I have become obsessed with the paste lately.

  6. Mairi- thanks :) and yes, the soup’s still summery enough to ease into autumn!

    hungryandfrozen: yeah, I don’t always go for sidebars (at my old flat there was this cookbook, good recipes, but full of totally inane and verging-on-inaccurate little blurbs that irritated the heck out of me every time I used it!! Argh.) but this one’s quite good – quite informative/useful. Also, for what it’s worth: I went a day without sugar yesterday!

    Becca: Hi!! Yeah so excited for soup. I’ve made this with roasted capsicums too, SO so good. :)

    budafist: I usually think of bisques as a creamy seafoody soup What makes something a bisque exactly? Is there any rule? Is it another word for soup? A creamy soup perhaps? This looks magnificent. I want it right now but it’s going to have to wait til I go to the market at least. Hmmm…what to have for lunch.

    peasepudding: I agree – I tried this chilled the next day (er, took it to work and didn’t bother to heat it up) and it was so good. Harissa sounds like an excellent addition – I’ll have to try your recipe :)

  7. lol. I really did make red pepper soup for dinner last night. I whipped up some scones to have with them and I had leftovers for lunch too. Looks like you’ve got a groupie!

  8. I see you and Laura are on the same capsicum wave lately ;)
    This soup is the perfect alliance of two seasons. The taste of late Summer bell pepper and the comfort for a chilly Fall night.
    And yes, the bisque usually involves a shellfish as main ingredient.

  9. budafist: Hooray! Saw your post, looked great! Scones would be perfect to go along with this too.

    Vanille: yeah, can’t get enough of capsicums at the moment ;) That’s what I thought about bisque too. Wikipedia says creamy pureed soups made from vegetables are also sometimes called bisque – ah, mystery solved!

  10. I’ve been making this consistantly since i read this post. I make my own veggie broth, of course, and double the carrots, onions and peppers so as to have lots of leftovers!

    I just shared a bowlful with a friend, and she loved it. I was proud to pass the recipe on!

  11. Oh this is great. :D Made it last night, didn’t add the 1/4 cup cream, but the crème fraîche changed the way I’ll ever look at soup again. =)))))) Thought it might be heavy on the stomach because of the crème, but that didn’t happen either, it was really good. :D

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