Let's be honest, it's much easier to cook when you have an unlimited budget and access to any product in the grocery store. The battle of the cupboard is a harder battle to fight, the one where you look in your kitchen and groan because your resources are limited and you're not making another run to the store yet again for cilantro! Besides, you need to stick to your weekly budget. In these tough times, that's a situation more and more people face on a daily basis. As I discuss in my grocery store article, To Grocery Shop or Not to Grocery Shop (click here), planning ahead and shopping once a week can really help your budget, but it also means that once Friday rolls around, you may have to roll up your sleeves and get creative!
Last night, I fought the cupboard battle, one I was determined to win! As I nosed through my pantry and freezer, I thought, "What can I make with tomato paste, capers and lettuce?" Even my puppy, the Adorable Monster, thought that sounded vomitous! Furrowing my brow, I again tackled my kitchen trying to think of a way to rework familiar ingredients. Lucky for me, my boyfriend, Kuzak, in a rare act of kitchen assistance, did this week's grocery shopping. Of course, that meant I had to keep my list simpler than usual to avoid freaking him out and thus negating future offers of help!
Finally, after considering many dinner ideas and rejecting them, I settled on two dishes for my TGIF dinner. As often happens when you're faced with a fridge of mayonnaise and beer, but you refuse to order pizza again, my dinner turned out more divalicious than I ever could have imagined! OK, maybe it doesn't work out that way for everyone, but if you keep reading my blog, some of this is sure to rub off via osmosis, right?
For the first part of my TGIF Dinner, I capitalized on a lovely vegetable that's been available the last few weeks: organic tri-color baby bell peppers. These little babies are colorful, lightly sweet and packed with vitamins. Whenever they come into the market, I always pick up a box at the store or add it to my veggie delivery. They're fabulous roasted whole and served as a side dish (to do this, follow the first half of my recipe below), but last night I decided to turn them into a light, delicate soup using my stash of homemade chicken broth stowed in my freezer. I topped it with a homemade parmesan reggiano crouton to add some nuttiness and richness to the soup. You'll notice that the ingredients are simple, but you'll be amazed by the velvety, rich pop of flavor this soup packs.
Note: If baby bells peppers aren't available, you can substitute regular bell peppers.
Domestic Diva's Roasted Baby Pepper Soup
1 box baby bell peppers
1 tbsp "cooking" olive oil
1 tbsp "good" olive oil for drizzling
a few thyme sprigs
1 garlic clove
2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
1 cup shaved parmesan reggiano
Note: This will serve 2 people.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the baby peppers in a pyrex pan and drizzle with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add the thyme sprigs and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Cover with aluminum foil. Place in the oven and roast for 4o minutes, or until the peppers are cooked. Meanwhile, to make the parmesan reggiano crouton, heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat (usually I don't condone non-stick, but there's no other way to do this!). Sprinkle some of the parmesan, about a tbsp, in a circle in the pan.
Allow to cook until the cheese melts and begins to turn a caramel color, then using a spatula, gentle pry the cheese out of the pan. Place on a plate, reshaping as needed, and allow to cool.
Once the peppers are done, remove them from the oven and allow the peppers to cool. Gently pull the stems off the peppers - they should pull away easily.
Then, puree the peppers with the garlic and chicken stock, making sure to include any cooking juices from the pan. For different levels of thickness, you may adjust the amount of stock. Pour the soup into a pan on the stovetop and heat over medium heat for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls. Top with a parm crouton, a few thyme leaves and drizzle with the "good" olive oil.