Hali'imaile General Store Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

The first time I ever tasted this soup was on a vacation Mike and I took with his family to Maui. We spent the first handful of days together in Lahaina before breaking off to explore the other side of the island on our own. First stop: one of the last pineapple plantations on the island for a tour where we stuffed ourselves with fresh from the field Maui Gold pineapple.

Can I just pause for a moment to relive the gloriousness of a wedge of pineapple still warm from the sun cut from the stalk just moments before and sliced with a wickedly sharp machete by our fearless guide right before our eyes? Even though we had enough fresh fruit to make our tongues go a little numb lunch was still in order (what can I say, we were on a vacation “diet”) and we were fortunate to be within a stone’s throw of the Hali’imaile General Store; a somewhat confusingly named, but absolutely lovely café.

After the memorable morning we spent in the pineapple fields you can probably forgive me for not remembering all of lunch very clearly, but this soup on the other hand still lives in my dreams. Thanks to some Internet research I was able to recreate it in my own kitchen and return to that amazing day in the hills of Maui.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Hali'imaile General Store Roasted Red Pepper Soup (serves: 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon (3 cloves) minced garlic
1 cup (1 medium) chopped onion
3/4 cup (3 medium) shallots
6 fire roasted red bell peppers
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
4-6 tablespoons Chobani 4% plain greek yogurt
Challah croutons (recipe below)

Roast the bell peppers by placing them directly on the burner over a gas flame or under a preheated broiler, rotating every 2-3 minutes until the skins blister and are completely charred. The more blackened and crispy the skin, the easier it will be to remove. Place the roasted peppers in a brown paper bag and fold over the top to allow the peppers to steam for 5 minutes.

As soon as the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel off the tough exterior skin. Rinse briefly under cold water and drain on paper towels. Remove the stems, seeds, and ribs before slicing each pepper into long strips, approximately 1/2 inch wide.

 In a large dutch oven, melt the oil and butter together over medium heat. Add the onion and shallots, and sauté for 4-5 minutes until softened. Add the minced garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more before adding the strips of red pepper.

Cook for 6-8 minutes until softened.

Add the chicken stock, kosher salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil before decreasing to medium-low heat. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes until the peppers begin to fall apart.

Allow the soup to cool slightly, then ladle into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Return the soup to the saucepan and reheat. Serve warm, or chill for 2-3 hours and serve cold with a dollop of whole milk greek yogurt and crunchy croutons.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Homemade Challah Croutons (yield: 4-5 cups croutons)

1 loaf challah bread (or brioche)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Slice the bread about 3/4-inch thick. If you prefer, cut off the crusts, otherwise cut the slices in 3/4-inch dice. You should have 6 to 8 cups of croutons.

Place the croutons on a sheet pan and toss with the olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, tossing once about half-way through the baking time, until they're golden brown on all sides. Cool to room temperature.

Rewritten and slightly adapted from Ina Garten’s Brioche Croutons.

Challah Croutons 1 smaller.jpg

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! I used my trusty 5.5 qt French oven, a high-powered blender, a large cutting board, and chef’s knife. I also used a liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, a ladle, rubber spatula and tongs. A large paper grocery bag, or in a pinch several brown lunch bags, and paper towels will be super helpful.

If you’re also making the croutons, then add a baking sheet, wooden spatula, and serrated knife to your kit.

The Verdict:
This is an amazing summer recipe – truly the perfect marriage of deep pepper flavor with the creaminess of a pureed bisque, and while roasting the peppers yourself does take a little doing, the mixture of bright freshness tinged with smoke is so worth it. Serve this soup cold with a spoonful of plain greek yogurt and a tumble of crunchy homemade challah croutons for a meal (or appetizer) that’s refreshing and just the littlest bit spicy. 

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Eat Like a Local”

The Set-up: Ina and Jeffrey are in Napa looking for inspiration from local foods.

The Menu: Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta, Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Thyme Roasted Marcona Almonds, Napa Spritz, Basil Gimlet

0:25 – Ina and Jeffrey are starting off the trip with a visit to the St. Helena Farmer’s Market. How did I miss this when we were there last month?!?

1:13 – Ina appears to be relatively incognito, but I can see my fellow superfans in the background just barely resisting the urge to ruin the shot and dart over for a convo with the Contessa.

2:36 – Ina has a master plan for their market visit: see what’s really fresh and delicious and let that guide their lunch menu.

3:07 – The resulting recipe is Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta, which sounds A-mazing. My stomach is growling already – I should know better than to watch Ina when I’m hungry.

4:18 – Thankfully tomato high-season is just about here, which means I won’t have to wait 6 months to make this…

5:39 – Ina’s combining the cherry tomatoes and dressing, and I just realized this is essentially a milder version of bruschetta topping - red wine vinegar instead of balsamic, shallots instead of red onion. Brilliant.

9:24 – Finishing touches on the crostini – toasted pine nuts and a sprinkle of julienned basil leaves. Now for the taste test verdict from Jeffrey: he deems it “fantastic.”

10:20 – After that ringing endorsement Ina is off to Addendum, where Thomas Keller’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken is available for take out.

11:15 – Ooh, we’re getting a how-to from Chef David Cruz. Step 1: Brine the chicken overnight. Step 2: Double coat the chicken in seasoned flour and buttermilk. Step 3: Fry!

12:59 – This is how you know you’re the Barefoot Contessa: your fried chicken is already to go when you arrive and it’s hand-delivered by the chef. Oooh la la.

13:28 – Ina delivers the Buttermilk Fried Chicken to Jeffrey who declares it “delicious!” Ina tries to trap him by asking if it’s the best chicken he’s ever eaten, but J is too wily for that. He says it is, except for the one she makes. Well played, sir.

17:34 – The Garten’s are shaking things up (I’m so sorry) with a visit from local mixologist Jon Gasparini for their own private cocktail class.

18:45 – The bar he’s setting up is pretty amazing, more than just a folding table with a tablecloth thrown over it.

19:07 – Ina is making herself right at home in their rental house garden – nipping a few figs here and a sprig of thyme there. But let’s be honest, who wouldn’t contribute an herb or two to Ina’s recipes?

20:42 – Onward to the Thyme Roasted Marcona Almonds. I am officially obsessed with Marcona almonds ever since I sat in the backyard at our friends’ place in San Jose with a silver dish of salt & pepper seasoned almonds and a glass of sparkling wine. Perfect.

21:35 – Ina always cooks so simply, but most of her food has an East Coast vibe to it (natch) and these recipes are so Californian. I love the adaptation.

25:46 – Jeffrey, you’ve been working too hard, so I got you a surprise: a stranger slinging cocktails in the backyard!

26:13 – I realize I’ve lost your trust with that pun a few minutes ago, but I was quite prescient because now the Gartens really are shaking up the Napa Spritz!

27:24 – Don’t get me wrong, I love a fancy drink, but gently clapping a piece of organic lavender between your palms to “release the oils” is where I draw the line. You’re on notice Gasparini.

28:07 – Next, the Basil Gimlet, complete with more herb clapping. PS: Jeffrey is adorably precise with his attention to direction. He’s clearly putting all of his focus on doing everything juuuust riiight.

29:50 – Two strong cocktails down and the night is young! Why do I think things are about to pop off at the Garten manse? Cheers to Napa!

Final Thoughts:
I’ve been trying to cook more seasonally, but I still always have a recipe in mind when I shop. I need to push myself to be inspired from the ingredients first!

Cocktails are pretty much the hotness these days, although I think the “mixologist” trend might be waning. Probably time to up my game in that department.

Was any one else trying to resist talking like the Californians as they watched this episode?

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I can’t pretend that Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta requires extensive culinary skills - isn't that part of it's beauty? - but I did learn something from making this recipe.

Balance – I mentioned this before, but there are really minimal ingredients in this recipe, yet the flavor is incredible. I’m sometimes tempted to add more and more to my recipes, but cooking something really simple like this reminds me that the right balance of texture – creamy cheese, crunchy bread – and flavor – fresh tomatoes, salty feta

Knife Skills – The variety of produce and the varied sizes that are ideal in this recipe - minced garlic, small diced shallots, a julienne on the basil leaves – make this a great opportunity to practice your knife cuts.

Read the Recipe – Even with minimal ingredients I still forgot to toast the pine nuts and sprinkle them on top. Thankfully, the pine nuts aren’t as essential as say, baking powder in a cake, but a good reminder to double check everything and make sure nothing is missing! 

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Almost definitely. This recipe hinges mainly on whether you have a food processor. I used a 6 cup food processor, a liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, a medium mixing bowl, chef’s knife, serrated utility knife, and medium cutting board. A large wooden spoon and rubber spatula will also be helpful. I cheated a little and used the toaster for the bread, but if you’re doing more than a few pieces then a baking sheet will be a good addition. 

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta | Image: Laura Messersmith

The Verdict:
OMG. The ingredients are so minimal, yet the flavors in Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta are off the charts delicious not that you’d expect anything less from Ina. Definitely get the best grape or cherry tomatoes you can – they’re the star here – and ably supported by the salty tang of the feta. These little crostini are delicious on their own, but are transformed into an amazing meal with the addition of a poached egg and a crumble of bacon. Trust me on this – you definitely want to make this recipe.

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta | Image: Laura Messersmith