Summer produce is still abundant and fall favorites are already making an appearance. It's a barrage of luxurious colors (bright yellow peppers, blood-red strawberries, dark purple eggplant), deep flavors (sun-ripened tomatoes, peaches, figs) and enveloping smells (dewy lettuce and greens, earthy potatoes and root vegetables).
Walking around the farmers market, I try to avoid filling my basket and canvas bags with irrational amounts of produce. The working week is forgotten the moment I set my eyes on sweet corn, gemlike cherry tomatoes or fresh duck eggs, and my imagination prepares new recipes and variations on old ones.
I arrive at home tired, but I want to use everything, to fix the moment's intensity of color, flavor and aroma. I want to prepare a banquet.
I almost always turn on the oven to roast sweet corn ("Tout Sweet Corn," July 17), cherry tomatoes for lunch ("Actual Tomatoes, Size Small," Sept. 9, 2010 ), then other items from my splurge, like peppers, strawberries and more.
Having roasted vegetables available inspires combination dishes like the following soup. Roasted tomatoes and peppers had been part of my repertoire for years, so when I decided to make tomato soup, I thought putting those two together would be enough. Not so: The result was passable, but not what I expected from the marriage of two flavorful ingredients. When I added roasted sweet onions, it finally reached the level of flavor that makes my mouth smile while full.
Amid the riotous colors of the farmers' market, onions rely on their aroma and sometimes their extra-large size to attract notice. Don't miss them.
You can roast all the vegetables and strain the tomatoes in advance, after which preparing the soup takes little time. And you can store the prepared vegetables in the refrigerator a day or two ahead and even freeze them. Then this winter, when your taste buds have forgotten the flavor of sun-ripened tomatoes and the aroma of freshly roasted peppers, you can bring this bright red soup to the table: Savoring it will carry you back to summer and to the farmers' market's phantasmagoria of colors, flavors and smells.
Roasted Tomato and Pepper Soup
Ingredients and method:
4 pounds ripe but firm globe tomatoes (not heirlooms), halved crosswise
Olive oil (in a mister)
Fresh thyme leaves
1 ½ pounds sweet onions (such as Walla Walla or Vidalia)
2-4 sweet peppers (such as round of Hungary, Carmen or bell peppers) to yield 1 cup roasted
3 medium garlic cloves (4 small), unpeeled
½ tablespoon olive oil (for the soup pot)
1 cup chicken stock or broth, or vegetable broth
Fine sea salt to taste
Prepare the tomatoes
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat and place the tomatoes on it, cut side up. Mist the tomatoes with olive oil, then sprinkle them with thyme leaves before roasting them for 70 minutes.
Take the baking sheet out of the oven and let the tomatoes cool a bit, then process them over a deep bowl using a food mill fitted with a medium disk. With a large spoon, transfer 4-5 tomato halves to the mill. As you turn the crank, the softened tomatoes yield a rich purée. Add more tomatoes until they are all processed, turning the crank counterclockwise now and then to clear the surface of the disk. Scrape the pulp from underneath the food mill with a flexible spatula and keep going until only dry skins and seeds are left behind.
Measure 4 cups for the soup and save the rest. Refrigerate the strained tomatoes until ready to use.
Prepare the other vegetables Preheat the oven to 375 F. Slice the onions into ¼-inch-wide half moons, spray them with olive oil and toss well, before spreading them in on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat.
Place the peppers on another baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or aluminum foil. For efficiency's sake, try to fit both baking sheets into the oven. Roast for 15 minutes, then turn the peppers 90 or 180 degrees, depending on their width, and lightly toss the onions, spreading them again to roast evenly.
Bundle the garlic cloves in foil and place them next to the peppers. After about 20 minutes, take the garlic out, let the cloves cool, then peel them.
The onions may need about 30 minutes — take them out when they are soft but not burnt. The peppers may take another 15 minutes, depending on their size. Keep turning and roasting them until their skin has turned dark and comes away in places (about 30 minutes or more).
Put the peppers in a lidded container or paper bag to steam, then peel off the skins and discard the stems, seeds and excess liquid. Measure 1 cup for the soup and save the rest.
For the soup
Warm the olive oil in a soup pot, then add the strained roasted tomatoes, all the roasted vegetables and the stock or broth. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer it gently for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and salt to taste.
Let the soup rest covered for 15 minutes, then purée it with an immersion blender. Add water, if needed, for the desired consistency. Making the soup a few hours ahead gives it time to rest and ripen. Reheat before serving.
Simona Carini also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog: www.pulcetta.com