Smoked Red Bell Pepper Soup

We not only smoke these red bell peppers for the soup, but we usually have a seal-a-meal bag of smoked red bells in the fridge -- we use them for sauces and on sandwiches, instead of an out of season tomato. This soup is to die for! Also, you can put the smoked bells in a seal-a-meal freezer bag once off the smoker so they sweat and are easier to peel. We leave them in there weeks in the bag and also use the smoked liquor the bell peppers give off in the freezer bag.

Smoked Red Bell Pepper Soup
Serves 6.

3 lbs. red bell peppers (about 9 large)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 stalks celery
1 medium onion
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves, crushed between fingers
1 bay leaf
6 cups homemade rich chicken stock with little to no salt, heated (vegetable stock can also be used)
2 cups whipping cream
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Croutons (garnish)

Prepare smoker and soak 4 hickory blocks for 1 hour. Once coals are ready and smoker is hot, arrange bells on two grills, leaving a bit of space between each pepper. Add hickory blocks to coals and smoke peppers for about 2-1/2 to 3 hours, or until skin is very puckered and the peppers have collapsed a bit. Cool peppers and peel (you can also put in fridge to hold them for a day or two; save liquid peppers give off, though). Remove core, seeds and ribs inside each pepper and chop fine, reserving any juice that accumulates while chopping.

Melt butter in heavy large soup pot over medium heat. Add celery and onion and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chopped peppers with any reserved liquid and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add heated chicken stock, crushed thyme and bay leaf and simmer for 1 hour to reduce, stirring occasionally.

Remove bay leaf. Puree soup in blender in several batches. Return pureed soup to pot. Add whipping cream to soup, stirring until well blended. Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and making sure soup isn't sticking to the bottom of the pot (if sticking, reduce heat slightly and stir more often). Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Ladle into warm soup bowls and sprinkle with croutons. If you have some fresh thyme sprigs, they look great on top of the soup as well.

This makes about 6 servings but could easily serve 8, as the soup is very rich.

This was a recipe I adapted from Bon Appetit about 25 or so years ago. Their version used chicken breasts cooked in stock to make it richer but I usually have homemade chicken stock in the freezer so after making it a couple of times, I eliminated the chicken from the recipe and added croutons. Also, I think they "smoked" the peppers on a BBQ grill using indirect heat method instead of on a smoker. Plus, they strained the soup after blending it which is totally unnecessary, and also blended it after adding the cream, which is something I never do with a cream soup.