Last Sunday we visited out friends in Fresno, Pat and Jim, who own a farm. With a large kitchen garden, it is risky to stop by their house or have them visit you. Last year, Pat showed up on our doorstep with a twenty pound bag of tomatoes. This year we got pepper bombed and a butternut squash literally the size of a baby. What am I going to do with a big bag of mixed peppers?
The last time this happened I tried pickling them. However, I found that while a few pickled peppers may be nice, a mountain of them is too much. I thought some soup might be nice so I started to look at pepper soup recipes on-line.
I almost never make soup as a starter. I like rich hearty meal soups, with maybe some crusty bread on the side. A bowl of soup should be sustaining and chunky. Nothing I found on-line really appealed to me. This one was too creamy. That one was too bland. The other was too spicy.
I did start to pick up an ingredient list. I choose the onion and garlic from one recipe. Cannellini beans from another and the Italian sausage from a third. One recipe called for fennel seeds, but I thought fresh fennel might be better. Finally, I pulled celery from another recipe.
But I did not stop there, what cooking techniques should I use? Some recipes were carful not to scorch the peppers, others called for roasting them first. Some recipes had you blend everything until smooth, some called for leaving everything in big chunks. I decided to combine these techniques. I would blend some things and leave others in chunks to make a more interesting and varied texture.
After Dinner Note: Table consensus was that this was a really good soup that I should make again. Eilene had the only complaint, that it “needed more tomatoes” (hint: there are no tomatoes, only red peppers). The next time I may add tomatoes and maybe some anchovy paste to boost the umami.
Karl’s Sweet Pepper and Fennel Soup with Italian Sausage Meatballs
6 red and yellow sweet peppers
1 fresh fennel bulb
½ lb. mild Italian sausage
2 Tbs. butter (or olive oil)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 Tbs. thyme
½ tsp. black pepper
2 cans low sodium chicken broth (32oz.)
1 can Cannellini beans (16 oz.)
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
Pinch Kosher salt
½ cup half and half or heavy cream (optional)
½ cup sour cream or yogurt (optional)
1. Cut peppers in half, seed and de-vein them.
2. Quarter the fennel bulb and brush with butter or olive oil.
3. Lay the peppers skin side up and the fennel cut side up on a shallow baking tray.
4. Broil the vegetables for 10-15 minutes, until well charred.
5. Remove and cool the vegetables slightly.
Tip: Remove the peppers to a plastic bag and seal it. This will steam the peppers and make it easier to remove the tough skins.
6. When cool enough to handle skin the peppers and coarsely chop the peppers and fennel. Reserve the vegetables for later.
7. Roll the sausage in to one half tablespoon balls, about half an inch in diameter.
Tip: You may do this while the vegetables are broiling so that you can put them in when you take the vegetables out.
8. Spray Pam on a small baking tray and broil the meatballs for 5 minutes, turning them once during cooking.
Tip: The object here is not to cook the meatballs completely, but to make them firm enough so that they do not break apart when added to the soup.
9. Melt the butter in a soup pot and sauté the onions until just picking up some color, about 5 minutes.
10. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more, until fragrant.
11. Add the chicken broth, peppers, fennel, thyme and pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
12. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the liquid from the can of beans and about one third of the beans.
Tip: blending these beans with the vegetables will thicken the soup, but still leave you enough to have whole beans in the final mix.
13. When the soup is cool enough to handle, process in a blender until smooth.
Tip: You may need to do this in batches.
14. Return the soup to the pot and add the rest of the beans, the meat balls, the celery and salt to taste.
Tip: Use a bit of hot water to help recover any juices that have come out of the meatballs.
15. Bring the pot to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes to finish cooking and meld the flavors.
16. Stir in ½ cup of half and half or heavy cream.
17. Place soup in individual bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.
18. Serve with crusty garlic bread and maybe a small spinach salad on the side.