Cream of yellow pepper soup

Finding some great looking yellow peppers in the polytunnel put me in mind of a delicious soup we enjoyed on one of our trips to Tuscany, so I thought I would make the most of them and attempt to recreate this zuppa di peperoni gialli at home. I have no recipe, nor can I be sure of what the ingredients might have been, except that it was predominantly made of yellow peppers, as they contributed the dominant flavour and a fresh yellow colour. I have been trying to recall where we ate it, and cannot be at all sure, but I have a suspicion that it might have been a restaurant in a very old but beautifully converted lime kiln near Meleto. However, having spent quite some time in various parts of rural Tuscany, I suspect that it is not a common dish and perhaps hails from one of the neighbouring regions. In any event, it turns out to be ever so easy to create a truly delicious yellow pepper soup, very much as I recall it in terms of flavour and colour, and this one will definitely become a favourite.

Our pepper plants have been a bit of a surprise this year. They started so slowly, hardly growing through the cold spring, and then more recently putting on great growth and providing a reasonable crop. We are still hoping that more will ripen before the first frosts arrive, as neither of us is particularly keen on green peppers. Leaving the peppers to ripen probably reduces the overall crop, but yellow peppers are so much more delicious than green, and they seem to ripen before the red sorts so there is more chance of getting a reasonable crop. Amongst various others, we have been growing a yellow pepper, and its related red form, from the Piemonte region of Italy. This variety of peperone, as it is known in Italy, goes variously by such names as Giallo d’Asti or Quadrato d’Asti Giallo, the latter no doubt due to the four distinct sections that form the body of this large blocky fruit.

Peperone Quadrato d'Asti Giallo

Peperone Quadrato d’Asti Giallo

This heritage variety of yellow pepper produces very high quality fruits. Even in our season, which is not ideally suited to growing peppers, large fruits are produced in good quantity. They are thick walled, the flesh is especially meaty and quite highly flavoured for a yellow pepper, and sufficiently sweet, but not overly so. It is, in my view, a most excellent pepper, and one that I hope to grow again next season.

Sadly, peppers can be a bit pricey in the shops, and one needs to grow quite a few to get enough to make a good sized batch of soup. The season is also rather short for homegrown peppers, which tend to hang on until late autumn before ripening in any quantity. Sometimes one can find them on offer in the supermarkets – especially those ‘undersized’ fruits that are sold at more sensible prices, despite having no fault whatsoever. In any event, if you have some good yellow peppers, I think this has to be one of the most delicious things that you can do with them. Some of ours still had a little green on them, and any green will contribute a slight bitterness to the soup, so good ripe yellow samples are to be preferred.

The secret, if one could call it that, of a good soup, is the stock base. This may be, as in this recipe, the addition of a prepared stock, or it might be the addition of vegetables such as carrots, onions, and celery, to form the base of the soup. Without a good base, though, soup lacks depth of flavour. As I made this soup on the same day as preparing a batch of chicken stock, I naturally used some in this recipe. Considering the importance of a good stock to this otherwise very simple recipe, I decided that a separate article on the subject of stocks might be useful, which you can find here.

This recipe calls for a good quality chicken stock, preferably homemade, although shop bought stocks are now quite good, if not as richly flavoured as a homemade version. Vegetarians may, of course, substitute a good vegetable stock. As my homemade stock tends to be quite strongly flavoured, and I do not want to create a chicken and yellow pepper soup, I use a mixture of stock and water; the stock is there to provide a rich depth of flavour, not to dominate the soup’s star ingredient. The amount of stock added therefore needs to be adjusted according to taste and depending on the qualities of the stock that is available. Alternatively, if you do not have any stock to hand, then first sauté a couple of finely diced carrots and one or two celery sticks for about five minutes before continuing with the recipe, adding just water where stock is called for. After making this a couple of times, I found that adding a carrot helps with the colour and flavour even where a good stock is available so modified the recipe accordingly.

Yellow peppers and shallots, cooked slowly until soft and silky

Yellow peppers and shallots, cooked slowly until soft and silky

The recipe can be scaled to suit the amount of peppers available. If there are leftovers, they are just as good the next day. In fact, as is common with soups, stews, and other slow cooked dishes, the flavours can be even better. As the recipe makes four reasonable portions, CT and I enjoyed this over two days, and I almost think that it may have been a little sweeter on the second day, but perhaps I just imagined that. In any event, none of the freshness of flavour was lost.

Zuppa di peperoni gialli

Zuppa di peperoni gialli

 

Ingredients

serves 4

  • 1kg yellow peppers
  • 4 large shallots, approximately 225g
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 300ml good chicken stock
  • 100ml double cream
  • Olive oil
  • Maldon salt
  • Black pepper

Preparation

Quarter the peppers, remove all of the seeds and membrane, then coarsely slice or chop. Peel the shallots and quarter. Peel and chop the garlic. Peel and dice the carrot.

Method

Over a medium heat, sauté the carrot, peppers and onions in a good splash of olive oil. Cook for 15 minutes or so, until thoroughly softened, but do not allow to brown. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and enough water to cover the vegetables. Bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes or so.

Blend the soup until completely smooth. Add the cream, return to the heat, and warm gently. Season with salt, to taste, and a generous twist of black pepper.

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