I posted this sweet red pepper soup back in the first weeks of my blog. I repost this today on our 5th anniversary! I’m absolutely amazed at being 5 years old with almost 800 recipes posted and over 800 followers! That’s a lot of cooking and babbling! I’ve enjoyed every minute and can’t imagine NOT blogging now. You’ve all been a part of the blog and I thank you for giving me your time and attention!
This soup is almost as amazing as my readers! I discovered the soup while dining at an upper scale restaurant in Fargo, ND the Easter of 2012. I remember our table discussion, trying to figure out the ingredients. My P.S., daughter and son-in-law also liked it and on returning home up I did an internet search for something comparable. I found a recipe on the Daily Morsel Website and that might be the first time I began to tweak and modify recipe posts. With much success. Adding fennel seed was the secret to perfection!
Unfortunately that upper scale restaurant fell out of favor when the next year’s Easter buffet was such a bust. Although we called several weeks in advance to make reservations, with a required credit card, we were seated in the farthest back location, in a dark corner next to the kitchen that spit out servers constantly. Then we had to squeeze our way back and forth between two rooms of tightly placed tables to get to the buffet.
For a final snub, the server asked us to leave the moment she thought we were done eating. I’ve forgotten how she phrased her request but she mentioned that they were busy and needed the table. Really. Rude. We moved on to other restaurants. Easter is our time to dine out, it’s my “vacation” holiday where I don’t cook. Otherwise, I’m all about holiday cooking! But being treated like that is not cool, ever.
I’ve modified how I make the soup after so many years of making it on holidays and now is a good time to renew and revise the recipe. Back then I also didn’t take photos of the steps in making dishes so that will be helpful for those who like to see the process visually. Roasting the peppers really is the only tricky part, and I do that often when peppers go on sale. The silly things are outrageously expensive during the winter months. Roasting and freezing batches of peppers ahead of time is a good plan.
I cut down the sides of the peppers and end up with about 4 pieces of each pepper. I trim any ribs and remove the remaining seeds from the pieces as I place them skin side up onto sheet pans covered with foil. I can usually fit 4 peppers worth of pieces on one pan; they can be placed quite close together.
The baking sheet goes into the oven on the highest rack setting with the broiler on. I watch closely the entire time; once they start browning they go fast! When most pieces are darkened I remove the pan from the oven. Sometimes I even removed pieces separately and set them on a plate if they’re getting done faster than the others. It’s a play-it-as-you-go scenario. The peppers don’t always brown evenly, so you deal with it. After a few times of browning them, you’ll be a pro. I promise.
Place the peppers in a zippered bag while hot and let them cool to room temp. The skins will slide off fairly easily. Set them aside. I should also mention that since the pepper skins don’t blacken evenly they also don’t come off evenly. Forget it. Leave those pieces on. Later when you strain the soup those pieces will be removed and your soup will be smooth and luscious without stressfully ripping at rogue pieces of pepper skins.
The peppers are the only semi-difficult part of the recipe. Once you master them, you can make this soup blindfolded. Or with one eye shut. Because you’d want one eye to eyeball the immersion blender, of course. Missing fingers, major splattering, you know. Gore.
Using a large nonstick skillet, sauté the onion with the spices and jalapeno until the onion is translucent. I use diced and canned jalapeno, not being a huge fan of heat. You could obviously use a fresh jalapeno complete with ribs and seeds if you want your tongue to tingle. I like having flavor, not a burning mouth.
The recipe directions suggested you add the flour and stir constantly for 10 minutes. I stir occasionally, and not for 10 minutes. The flour gets a bit dark if cooked that long. Judge for yourself when you think the flour is done cooking. You want it a little brown and the floury flavor cooked out of it. I’m guessing about 3 minutes.
In the meantime I have a soup pot heating the stock on another burner. When my onion and flour mixture is ready I pour it into the pot of broth, whisking as I add it so that I don’t make dumplings. I then add the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir well.
I add the prepared peppers and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring often enough to prevent settling and burning onto the bottom of the pot. That’s a real thing, and happened to me once. Destroyed my pot of soup! All that work and my soup ended up in the garbage. Huge sigh. Expensive mistake.
When the peppers are very tender, the soup is ready to be pureed. I use an immersion blender. You can use a regular blender in batches but trust me, invest in an immersion blender. Over the long run, it’s going to save you tons of time. They’re about the price of a hand mixer. Not a big expense.
I puree the soup until the peppers are liquefied and there are no chunks left. The fennel remains in pieces, it never disappears. I’ll attest to that! I then pour the soup through a fine metal strainer to remove the fennel and any other chunks (or peelings) that remain. I press it with a silicone spatula to get all the good ooze back into the soup.
I return the soup to the pot and stir in the cream and sugar. I taste test and add salt and pepper to taste. Last I stir in a bit of rice vinegar to give it a nice acidic pop. Soup is ready!
We like the splash of Sambuca in our soup, but it’s totally optional. It adds an anise flavor that goes well with the other flavors in the soup. I’m not much of an anise fan but even I like it in this soup. The soup by itself is delicious if you’d rather not add the liquor. Or if you forget, as we sometimes do.
I’ve often made double batches of the soup and frozen it in portions. My original post explained how I pour soup into plastic bottles and thaw them one at a time for lunch or dinner. The soup freezes very well and is wonderful for dunking a grilled cheese sandwich or pieces of toast for a fast meal. I’ve also used it as a sauce for pasta. Be creative! This stuff is great as a soup or a sauce!
Sweet Red Pepper Soup w/Sambucca
A pureed soup with fresh tasting peppers and tomatoes with a splash of anise-flavored liquor.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 cup onion; chopped
- 1 tablespoon dried fennel seed
- 1/4 teaspoon thyme
- 1/2 bay leaf; crumbled
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 2 tablespoon jalapeno peppers; minced (I use canned)
- 1/4 cup flour
- 5 cups chicken stock
- 28 ounces can diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste (I buy it in tubes in the produce section)
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (more or less to taste)
- 6 large red bell peppers; roasted on a grill or under a broiler
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 pinch sugar
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Sambucca; splash per serving, to taste (optional)
In a nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, basil and jalapeno. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the onion is translucent, 10 to 15 minutes.
Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3-5 minutes. Just until it begins to brown.
In a separate soup pot, bring the stock to a boil over medium high heat. Add the skillet mixture to the pot of broth, whisking as you add it to prevent lumps. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, stirring again to incorporate.
Meanwhile, chop the roasted peppers into smaller chunks and add the peppers to the soup. Simmer the soup over medium low heat, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot, for about 20 minutes.
Remove the soup from the heat and puree in small batches in a blender or by using an immersion blender. Strain through a fine metal strainer.
Return the soup to the saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium low heat and add the cream and the sugar. Season with salt and pepper. If the soup is too spicy, add more cream. Add the vinegar and serve hot.
Add the Sambuca just before serving, if desired.
Notes: straining the soup is very important; the fennel just never purees smooth enough with a blender or an immersion blender and is an annoying feel if left in the soup.
Straining also removes any skins that weren’t removed from the peppers.
I use a coffee grinder to grind up the bottle of fennel seeds when I bring a new bottle home. I use a lot of fennel in this soup or in lasagna and it saves me heaps of time to have it in a fine texture.