Thursday, March 20, 2008

Recipes: Red Pepper Soup & Pizzettes (Σούπα με Κόκκινες Πιπεριές & Πιτσάκια)

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.

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.

Red Pepper Soup (Σούπα με Κόκκινες Πιπεριές)
Serves 4
Adapted from Marion Burros,
New York Times (September 21, 2005) via Tart Reform
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.

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.

PizzettesPizzettes (Πιτσάκια)
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.


Anonymous said...

Red pepper soup is delicious and you've done a wonderful job Laurie. And the pizzettes also look more-ish. Great presentation as always.

Gretchen Noelle said...

This looks tasty! I have fond memories of a roasted red pepper soup. I may try to roast, peel and then add to the soup already soft. That sounds delicious to me!

Dave Pye said...

Not to take away from the pizzettes, but the red pepper soup looks amazing. I want to learn how to make more soups and I think that will be my first foray. Thatnks for your kind comments about my Greek lambchop article recently. I've added you to my Google Reader and will be reading your posts with great eagerness!

Lisa Turner said...

Laurie, this looks fabulous. This would be a perfect meal for a vegetarian like myself, but I can't imagine carnivores could resist this either. As always, you continue to share a delicious and creative range of recipes. My list of mean to try recipes gets longer each day!

Anonymous said...

I can never get enough of roasted red peppers -- what a fantastic color they make as a soup, too! This looks like a perfect Sunday lunch.

Thanks, too, for the tip about E. Guzman's book. I hadn't found a single recipe for kala anywhere so I'm going to have to look for his. Haven't seen it in the shops (most local chefs' books are pretty ubiquitous) so I'll be doubling my efforts.

Suganya said...

I like how the pizzettes look. Great party food.

test it comm said...

That red pepper soup looks good. It is so vibrantly red.

Peter M said...

My affinity for a soup like this is natural...piperies Florinis.

One roasted red pepper in the mix would send this over the top!

Cakelaw said...

What a beautiful rich red your soup is! Taate and Create sounds like a great idea.

Maria Verivaki said...

I love your pie, dough, bread recipes. These little pizzas look delightful - I'll be making them for at next dinner party. And you know that my weekly pizza is thanks to your ladenia recipe!

Ivy said...

Both recipes look great. The soup is suitable for lent and the mini pizzas sound great for a snack.

Cakespy said...

It all looks so wonderful--I love the pizzettes! They are not only cute but sound and look delicious!

Laurie Constantino said...

Thanks, Peter G. The pizzettes are definitely addictive.

Gretchen, I've made roasted red pepper a lot and it is definitely delicious. This version using fresh red peppers has a brighter flavor - you should try it sometime!

Dave, thanks for stopping by and I'm so glad you like the soup recipe. I love soups, particularly those made with full-flavored vegetables, so can understand why you'd want to cook more of them.

Lisa, I completely understand - I don't think it's possible to live long enough to make all the recipes I've seen and loved.

Manju - in fact, we just had the soup with some grilled cheese sandwiches. Really good. Best of luck finding the book; the Amazon site has it for sale.

Suganya, yes - I'm definitely making this the next time we entertain.

Kevin, the red is one of the best things about it!

Peter M - didn't you grow up drinking this instead of milk?

Cakelaw - you should sign up to participate in Taste and Create next month.

Maria, you could also make these with the ladenia dough. Glad you liked them!

Hi Ivy! You could leave off the cheese for little Lenten pizzas...

Cakespy, and easy too - that's the best part!

Thistlemoon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Thistlemoon said...

Thanks Laurie for mentioning The Leftover Queen, Foodie Blogroll and the Finest Foodies Friday! It is because of all the great food bloggers out there that this is possible.

That soup looks AMAZING! I just adore red pepper soups! How beautiful it is!

Núria said...

What a great recipe, Laurie! I've never done Red Peppers soup but I think I will love it... bookmarked!

Laurie Constantino said...

Jenn, I love your site - it is a must visit for anyone interested in recipes and food writing. Thanks for all your (and Roberto's) hard work keeping it all current and useful. Oh - and I'm so glad you liked the soup!

Nuria, glad you liked it. I almost added some Spanish smoked paprika and will definitely do so next time - I think it would go really well, don't you?

bee said...

that is a glorious looking soup, dear laurie.