My first cookbooks were homemade, full of hand-written recipes and clippings from newspapers and magazines. Because I lived on next to nothing, I glued the recipes on old pages of notes I’d taken in classes that had ended. Red Pepper Soup (Σούπα με Κόκκινες Πιπεριές)
In those days, before the internet, interesting food writing was hard to find. Now it’s easy. It seems as if new food blogs pop up every day. The challenge is sorting the wheat from the chaff in the abundance of online recipes.
Jenn of The Leftover Queen has made it easier to investigate the multitude of food blogs by maintaining a comprehensive listing of them. In addition, Jenn writes an article on The Leftover Queen every Friday highlighting some of her favorite blogs.
Another way to learn about new blogs is an event called Taste and Create organized by For the Love of Food. In this event, food writers are paired with a randomly assigned partner, and asked to cook and review one recipe from their partner’s blog.
This month I was paired with Tart Reform, a blog written by a smart woman who is thrilled about starting law school in the fall. The name of her blog is a clever play on the phrase “tort reform,” a political effort undertaken by insurance companies and major corporations to deny full compensation to those who are injured by another’s negligence.
Tart Reform includes many dessert recipes; the author is a dedicated baker. I rarely make desserts anymore, the result of marrying a man who doesn’t like sweets. Since I inherited a sweet tooth from my father, when I make desserts they end up in my belly or, more accurately, on my belly. Sadly, it’s better for me to admire Tart Reform’s lovely desserts than to make them.
Instead, I made Red Pepper Soup, a recipe posted on Tart Reform’s blog last July. I’d originally thought of following Tart Reform’s lead and making the soup with green peppers for a festive St. Patrick’s Day soup. However, Tart Reform warned strongly against doing so, and said the soup “looks just like the goo from Ghostbusters” when made with green peppers. Not interested in having a Ghostbusters’ prop for dinner, I stuck with red peppers.
Red Pepper Soup, originally published in a New York Times article by Marian Burros, was quick and easy because it doesn’t require pre-roasting or peeling the peppers. With a bag of Costco red peppers (in Alaska, $6.50 for 6 peppers), the recipe made a reasonably priced dinner for 4.
The soup is delicious and beautiful. A small amount of crushed red pepper flakes and minced thyme highlight its sweet red pepper flavor.
The peppers aren’t peeled, so bits of pepper skin remain in the soup after it is puréed. The original recipe left in the skins, but I didn’t like the soup's texture with them in it. It took 2 minutes to strain them out, leaving the soup with a pleasingly silky texture.
The original recipe suggests serving the soup with a dollop of crème fraiche and sprigs of thyme. Although we tried this suggestion and it tasted fine, we preferred the soup with a drizzle of best quality olive oil and a sprinkling of minced thyme.
I served the soup with Pizzettes, another recipe from Tart Reform’s site. Pizzettes are nothing more than mini-pizzas; the original recipe came from Giada’s Family Dinners by Giada De Laurentiis.
I made the Pizzettes twice; once with gorgonzola as Giada called for and the second time with mozzarella, which was Tart Reform’s recommendation. We preferred mozzarella Pizzettes, although the ones with gorgonzola were also tasty.
Pizzettes are easy to make, even with putting together my own pizza dough (the original recipe used store bought). The concept is one I will use again; pizzettes make a terrific appetizer. They tasted great hot, and retained their flavor at room temperature, so could easily be made ahead for entertaining.
Adapted from Marion Burros,
The amount of red pepper depends on how spicy you like your soup and the heat of your dried red peppers. When I first read the recipe, I was concerned 1 cup of liquid wouldn’t be enough, but I shouldn’t have worried. There is plenty of liquid because peppers are full of moisture and the soup is cooked covered. If you don’t mind pepper skins, there’s no need to strain the soup. Red Pepper Soup may be served hot or cold, and may be frozen for later use.
2 cups sliced onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup dry white wine
6 large red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut in 1” chunks
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
4 tsp. minced fresh thyme, plus extra for garnish
Crème fraîche or sour cream, for garnish (optional) OR
Best quality extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling (optional)
Sauté the onion, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until the onions soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and boil until only 1 Tbsp. liquid remains.
Stir in the peppers, stock, and thyme, and lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, turn down the heat and simmer for 30 – 40 minutes, or until the peppers are tender
Using a stick blender, blender, or food processor, purée the soup until it's smooth. Strain the soup with a Foley food mill or strainer to remove the tough pieces of pepper skin. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed.
Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with extra virgin olive oil, crème fraiche, or sour cream. Sprinkle with minced thyme and serve immediately.
Red Pepper Soup (Σούπα με Κόκκινες Πιπεριές)
Variation: Drizzle with a blender pesto of 2 Tbsp. fresh thyme, 2 large cloves garlic, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 cup olive oil. This is good drizzled directly into the soup, and is particularly attractive (and tasty) when used in combination with crème fraîche.
Makes 40 2 1/4” mini-pizzas
Adapted from Giada’s Family Dinners (Crown Publishing Group 2006) via Tart Reform
Pizzettes are pizza dough cut into small circles and baked with a topping. I indented the dough before adding the toppings so they would stay on the pizzettes when the dough expands during baking. The oil is necessary at the end to bring out the full flavor of fresh basil. When I tried a basil topping without oil, the basil lost much of its flavor (the volatile oils dissipated when the cut basil hit the hot pizzettes). As with pizza, the topping for pizzettes is limited only by one’s imagination.
1 cup warm water
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. yeast
2 – 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 1/2 cups seeded and diced tomatoes, 1/2” dice
1/4 cup shredded fresh basil (basil chiffonade)
2 – 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Make the Dough: Mix the water, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let sit for 10 minutes. Using the mixer’s paddle attachment (or by hand), stir in the salt and enough flour to form a soft dough. Switch to the dough hook attachment. Knead on low speed for 5 minutes (or by hand), adding flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking to the bowl. Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap fixed to the bowl with a rubber band, cover with a dish towel, and let rise until doubled in size.
Make the Pizzettes: Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Roll out the dough until it is 1/4” thick. Using a 2” – 2 1/2” round cutter, cut out as many circles as you can and place 3/4” apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Gather the remaining dough together, roll it out, and cut into circles. Use a glass (or other circular object) slightly smaller than the dough circles to indent their centers.
Sprinkle the dough rounds with crushed red pepper flakes, top with shredded mozzarella, and then with diced tomatoes. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes or until the cheese melts and starts to turn golden. If baking two sheets of pizzettes at one time, rotate the baking sheets after they've been in the oven 5 minutes.
While the pizzettes are baking, mix the basil and olive oil. As soon as the pizzettes come out of the oven, top each one with a little basil and olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt, and serve immediately.