I think everyone in London woke up today thinking, “Cripes, it’s winter.” It was COLD, RAINY, and WINDY. Since it is, in fact, technically still summer, I refused to turn on the heat, even though my flat was freezing and my elderly arthritic cat was looking at me reproachfully. Instead, wearing a hoody over my pajamas and big ridiculous fluffy slippers, I decided to make soup. This is a warming soup sweet from slow-roasted vegetables with just a hint of heat from espelette pepper (très Basque!). The crisp buttery croutons add a little decadent richness, although feel free to simply serve with crusty bread on the side. For you Basque cognoscenti getting ready to cry foul, this soup is abstractly Basque. It is Basque-esque. It is also lovely. Enjoy, and don’t be such a stickler.
For the soup:
Two sweet bell peppers
One head of garlic
Four large or five small ripe sweet tomatoes
Two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Four or five sprigs of fresh oregano and thyme
1 teaspoon espelette pepper
2 and ½ teaspoons salt
½ liter (about two cups) white chicken stock, or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh parsley
For the croutons
50 grams butter
½ – ¾ cup cubed one- or two-day old bread – I used brioche, but a nice rustic country bread would work well too.
Preheat your oven to 150 degrees Celsius (300 degrees Fahrenheit). Blanch, peel, de-seed, core, and halve the tomatoes, and slice the top half inch off the head of garlic. Place the tomatoes and garlic cut-side down in an oven-proof pan which holds these ingredients snugly. Sprinkle with the espelette pepper, ½ teaspoon salt, the olive oil and the fresh thyme and oregano. Roast uncovered for one and a half hours. Remove and discard the thyme and oregano.
If you have a grill (broiler) separate from your oven, or alternatively over a low flame on your hob, while the tomatoes and garlic are in the oven, roast the peppers evenly on all sides until lightly charred. Peel, remove seeds, and tear into rough pieces.
Remove the roasted garlic cloves from the husks (they should slide out easily when you squeeze them) and combine tomatoes, garlic, peppers, and stock in a medium saucepan. Simmer, covered, over low heat for half an hour. Remove from heat, and, using an immersion blender, puree thoroughly. Return to heat and stir in remaining salt and minced parsley. Turn off heat and allow to stand while you make the croutons so flavours combine.
In a frying pan big enough to hold all the croutons in a single layer, melt the butter until foam subsides. Over medium heat, fry the croutons, turning carefully so that at least two sides are fried golden brown. Transfer to plate to cool.
Serve soup hot, topped with croutons.