Eaten raw, the average out-of-season red pepper is a bit of a disappointment flavour-wise although it does possess texture and a hint of what is to come later on in the year. Where would mass-catered salads be without its squeaky chew?
Add some heat and peppers become different beasts altogether, turning smokily sweet as the Maillard reaction transforms their sugars and amino acids into new flavour compounds.
Don’t make the mistake of blasting peppers with intense heat though. A low and slow roast in the oven allows their water content to reduce, intensifying flavour and ensuring they keep well (if you refrigerate, stored in olive oil) for at least a week. Don’t use a blowtorch to prep them either; this is food arson.
This soup is no faff. You will need a food processor to get the smooth texture but the cooking is basically roast the peppers + blend + heat with stock. It’s a bit of a culinary hybrid because I remember eating a version of it in Mexico as a kid (sopa de pimiento morrónes) which was considerably livelier in heat but my version is milder and sweeter with added British cheese. Here, the dried ancho chile is added to the pot for the last part of the cooking, contributing a mere ghost of fruity heat, although you’d miss it if it was not there.
The soup is served with a cheese frico made from Cornish Quartz Cheddar and Wensleydale which is great for dunking in lieu of bread (although you may wish to eat bread too). Again, their constitution is very simple – basically cheese and more cheese (never a bad thing when new research suggests cheese may help extend life), but you will need to watch them like a hawk to avoid burning and other cheese-related disasters. And let’s face it, anything that stops us from eating cheese is a disaster.
A few pointers for success: always use baking parchment when making fricos and form them into flat circles rather than heaping piles. They can be made in advance, too, so don’t worry that you’ll have to perform cheese acrobatics whilst plating up the soup.
ROATED RED PEPPER SOUP WITH CHEDDAR AND WENSLEYDALE FRICOS
FOR THE SOUP:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, fine sliced
1 celery rib, fine sliced
4 Romano peppers
1 red bell pepper
900 ml chicken or vegetable stock
300ml fresh tomato juice
1 dried ancho chile, left intact
salt and pepper
Heat the oven to 200C. Prepare the peppers by removing their stalks, slicing in half and cutting away the white ribs and seeds.
Place on an oiled baking tray skin side up, drizzle with more olive oil and salt and roast until they are collapsed and their skins are showing patches of light char. This will take around 20-30 minutes but watch them.
Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan and add the onion and celery, sauteing until softened and golden. Set aside.
Make up the stock.
Puree the peppers and their juices, the onion and celery mix and 100 ml of the stock in a food processor. Ensure there are no chunks because this is intended to be a smooth soup. The pepper skins add flavour so don’t remove them.
Pour the puree into a large saucepan along with the rest of the stock and the tomato juice then taste and adjust for salt. Add the ancho chile.
Simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes and discard the chile. Serve with a cheese frico and a good grind of black pepper. This soup is also good chilled.
TO MAKE THE CHEESE FRICOS:
75g grated Wensleydale
75 Cornish Quartz Cheddar (or other strong Cheddar)
Heat the oven to 175C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Taking half a tablespoon of each cheese, form into a thin circle on the parchment paper and carry on until all the cheese is used up. Ensure you have left 2 inches between each frico. You’ll get around eight with these measurements but you can make them larger if you like.
Bake until the cheese is golden and lacy, around five to eight minutes. Watch them though as much depends on your oven which may run hotter. Cool on the baking sheet, peel off, then serve.