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Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

December 22, 1991|BETTY ROSBOTTOM | Rosbottom is a cooking school director

I sampled this yellow pepper soup at Il Cibreo, a restaurant in Florence. The thick, bright yellow soup was so enticing that I asked the chef if he would share the recipe so I could make it for Christmas dinner. I then spent several days in the kitchen trying to approximate the Florentine original for my holiday fete. In the end, I made some slight changes to achieve the taste I remembered.

The soup can be prepared two days in advance and the croutons a day ahead if kept in an airtight container. Although this dish is rich in flavor, it is not filling, which makes it a good introduction for a meal filled with festive holiday dishes.

YELLOW PEPPER SOUP WITH ROSEMARY CROUTONS

10 sweet yellow peppers (4 1/2 to 5 pounds), rinsed and dried

1/2 cup olive oil

2/3 cup finely diced peeled carrots

2/3 cup finely diced celery

2/3 cup chopped onion

2/3 cup diced peeled boiling potatoes

4 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 cups milk plus more if needed

4 slices white bread, crusts removed and bread diced 1/2-inch

Scant 1/2 teaspoon crushed rosemary

Fresh rosemary sprigs for garnish

Roast 2 yellow peppers by placing on top of burner of gas range or on broiling pan 4 to 5 inches under flame. Roast peppers, turning several times until charred on all sides. Wrap peppers in damp paper towels and place in plastic bag. Seal bag and allow peppers to steam 10 minutes. Remove peppers and scrape off black charred skin with paring knife. Remove stems and seeds and set peppers aside.

Remove stems and seeds of remaining 8 peppers and chop peppers. Heat 5 tablespoons olive oil in large heavy pan over medium heat. Add chopped yellow peppers, carrots, celery and onion. Saute, stirring constantly, until vegetables are tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Add potatoes and chicken stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 25 minutes.

Remove soup and add roasted peppers to mixture. Puree soup in food processor, blender or food mill. Stir in milk. If soup is too thick, add more milk. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Soup can be made 2 days ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate.

To prepare croutons, heat remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add bread cubes and toss until golden. Sprinkle with rosemary. Remove. Croutons can be made day ahead and stored in airtight container.

To serve, heat soup and pour into 8 individual soup bowls. Garnish each portion with croutons and sprig of rosemary. Makes 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

229 calories; 789 mg sodium; 7 mg cholesterol; 16 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 1.47 grams fiber; 64% calories from fat.

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