Sunday, December 6, 2009

Soup Season

Thanksgiving on a Bun, fresh fruit

Now that Thanksgiving is long over, you don’t have to feel like you’re cheating if you order the Thanksgiving on a Bun ($8.75) from the Village Bakery and Cafe in Atwater Village. Of course, now that Thanksgiving is over, the Thanksgiving on a Bun is probably the last thing you’d want. But the casual eatery—recently opened in the former LA Bread space by one of the founders of Auntie Em’s—has plenty else to offer.

Basket of bread with raspberry butter

Aside from its full breakfast and lunch menu, the restaurant has a bakery case crammed with housemade cakes, cookies, scones, muffins, and other treats. Having more of a savory than a sweet tooth, Mr. Comma and I opted for the lemon-rosemary-almond-olive oil cake ($5) on a recent visit. Not only is the name itself a mouthful, but you really can taste every one of those flavors in each bite. Is that a good thing? We weren’t entirely convinced but look forward to sampling other selections.

Baked goods (left), lemon-rosemary-almond-olive oil cake (right)

Compared with the roast beef sandwich, which was stacked high with tender meat, cheese, grilled onions, and greens on thin-sliced sourdough, the chicken salad sandwich ($8.25), made with organic apples and toasted pecans, seemed a bit skimpy. The soup of the day, however, roasted red pepper and tomato bisque ($5), was so good that I ordered an extra bowl to take home (though I’m inclined to nitpick that traditionally a bisque is made with shellfish).

Roast beef sandwich, side salad

Chicken salad sandwich, roasted red pepper and tomato bisque

It also inspired me to tweak a recipe I thought I’d already perfected over the past 15 years, a tomato soup with dill. I’d always made mine with red bell peppers but never thought to roast them first. Turned out so great I’m happy to share my recipe here. A twist on a classic mirepoix (equal parts chopped carrots, celery, and onion), the roasted peppers and fresh zucchini in the base lend a smoky complexity to this comforting and delicious soup. This recipe makes a good 8 or so bowls, so invite friends over, or keep the leftovers to yourself.

Roasted Red Bell Pepper and Tomato Soup with Dill

2 red bell peppers
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 zucchinis, chopped
1 28-oz can crushed Italian plum tomatoes
1 and 1/2 quarts vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup sour cream
Several sprigs fresh dill, finely chopped

Roast the peppers over a medium-high flame (or in a preheated 425-degree oven), turning occasionally, until they are nicely charred (but not incinerated) on all sides (this could take 5-10 minutes per side). Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or enclose in a paper bag 10-15 minutes, until cool enough to handle. Peel skin from peppers and cut open to remove seeds. Coarsely chop into 1/2-inch pieces.

Heat butter and olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Sautée garlic for a few seconds; then add onion, zucchini, and red bell pepper. Stirring often, cook the vegetables for a couple minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool about 45 minutes. In a blender, puree the mixture in batches to a smooth consistency. (At this point, the soup can be refrigerated for later use.)

Prior to serving, gently reheat. Add sour cream and, using a whisk, stir in until it’s fully incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (The canned tomatoes and broth will already have supplied plenty of salt so you shouldn't need to add much, if any.) Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a big pinch of dill.

1. Prep. 2. Cooking. 3. Post-puree. 4. Finished product.