The only reason I ever wish our quite modestly sized house were bigger is so that we could have a huge gargantuan kitchen in which everyone could fit at once and multiple activities could be simultaneously pursued.
Although this is not currently the case, we didn't let that stop us from packing in to bottle Jacob and Rachel's beer the other night. (It's an Anchor Steam clone, so Jacob says, being brewed for Jim's Second Annual Amazing Birthday Campout. Are you coming? You should!)
I roasted the peppers earlier in the day, which was a good thing, because at soupmaking time the oven was taken up warming Rachel's delicious maple wheat bread (NOMZ, as Jacob would say). Somehow, with Jacob and Rachel filling the bottles and Jim and Rhys crouching in the doorway to the dining room to cap them, there was just enough room for me to squeeze around the edges and make the soup.
The only downside? I now have a 12-ounce bottle of used frying oil sitting on my countertop waiting for me to figure out what to do with it. I never fry things. I have no idea what to do with it. Anybody want to make a teeny-weeny batch of biodiesel?
Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Fried Polenta Croutons
From Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
You will need some leftover polenta, formed into a cute little log and refrigerated, to make this? Don't have any? That's OK… I'll wait… I also hear that Trader Joe's and suchlike places sell ready-to-serve polenta. Sounds a bit odd, but you can't fight convenience.
3 Tbsp olive oil (Deborah Madison says "2-1/2 Tbsp," but ZOMG are you really going to measure that? Let your conscience be your guide)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small russet potato, peeled and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 nice bay leaf, or 2 pathetic-ish ones, which is what I had
1 Tbsp chopped fresh marjoram, plus more for garnish
1 Tbsp tomato paste
4 red bell peppers plus 1 jalapeno (optional, but I think nice), roasted and chopped*
1 tsp Hungarian paprika
Salt and pepper
5 cups vegetable (or chicken–I used vegetable) broth
A couple teaspoons of balsamic vinegar
Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and potato and cook, stirring frequently, until edges begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, bay leaves and marjoram, and cook, stirring, one minute more. Stir in tomato paste and cook for yet one minute more.
Add peppers, paprika, 1 tsp salt, a few grinds of pepper and the broth. Scrape vigorously at the bottom of the pot to loosen all the scrumptious browned bits. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer until potato is quite tender, about 25 minutes. Make polenta croutons while you're hanging about waiting.
Fish out the bay leaf. With an immersion blender if you've got one***, puree soup until pretty darn smooth. (Otherwise, use a blender or food processor, and try not to burn yourself.) Taste and correct salt and pepper as needed. Whisk in the balsamic vinegar.
Serve soup with croutons on top (sort of a misnomer–they'll tend to sink like wee crispy stones) and a bit of additional marjoram. (Go easy on the marjoram garnish, especially if you've got sort of a bitterish batch–taste and see.)
*To accomplish this: Preheat broiler. Arrange peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet. Put under broiler and roast, turning every 10 minutes or so, until bubbling and starting to blacken on all sides. Remove from sheet and pop promptly into a pot with a heavy lid. Cover and let sit in their own steam for about 10 minutes. Remove from pot; pull off their skins; cut out their stems; chop, scraping away and discarding seeds as you go. You can do this hours ahead of time if you like.
**To accomplish this: While the soup simmers, pour an inch or so of frying oil into a deep skillet. Heat over medium heat until shimmery. Drop in a crumb of polenta, and if it sizzles, it's ready. While oil is heating, cut up cold leftover polenta into cute little cubes. Fry in batches in hot oil. They won't brown, really, and they'll tend to stick together. Give each batch 5 minutes or so, and let oil return to full heat between batches. Drain fried cubes on paper towels, then toss in a bowl with a little coarse salt.
***My immersion blender miraculously healed itself, hallelujah! All it took was a good thump on the counter. Percussive maintenance to the rescue once again.