2 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil
3 medium potatoes, any type, peeled and cut into small  cubes
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, well washed and sliced into thin rings
salt and freshly ground red pepper
1 quart vegetable stock
1/2 to 1 cup sour cream, cream or yogurt

Put the butter or oil in a large, deep saucepan or casserole over medium heat. When the butter melts or the oils is hot, add the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 or 3 minutes.
Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.
Carefully puree the soup in a blender or with an emmersion blender, then return it to the pot. Stir in 1/2 to 1 cup cream, sour craeam or yogurt.
Add salt and pepper as needed. Chill thoroughly before serving.

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Nothing says the holidays like Christmas tree croutons!


Jazz up the holidays with basil Christmas tree croutons.

Nothing escapes the red and greening of the holidays in my house … including soup!

And roasted red pepper soup with Christmas tree-shaped pesto croutons is about as festive as you can get in the soup world. While soup may not be on your typical holiday menu, this velvety red potage from the Food Network is perfect for a cozy meal after a hard day of shopping at the mall or even better after an afternoon of shoveling the snow.

Best of all, it can be as easy or difficult as you want to make it. The recipe itself calls for roasting the red peppers, but I actually made it with jarred peppers to speed up the process. (No time for roasting when there are presents to be wrapped!)

Instead of roasting the peppers, simply add three fire roasted peppers from the jar, which is about two 12-ounce jars, give or take. I’m partial to the Trader Joe’s brand, but use what you like.

The killer app here, of course, is the Christmas tree croutons, which, surprisingly, is the easiest part of the entire endeavor. All you need is a tree-shaped cookie cutter, slices of bread and some pesto — either homemade or store bought. You toast the “trees” in the oven and when you are ready to serve the soup, spread the pesto on them and float them in the soup.

While the croutons are certainly decorative, they also add a nice note of complexity to the soup, which has a very strong peppery flavor. This particular pesto is made with broccoli, a great way to sneak vegetables into your children. But if you prefer to use your standard pesto with basil, pine nuts, parmesan and garlic, it would work just fine.

If you really want to take the easy way out, pull out the boxed (or canned) version of red pepper or even tomato soup and add the Christmas tree croutons with pre-made pesto — and voila! — everyone is instantly cheered and impressed!

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Broccoli Pesto Croutons

¼ cup blanched almonds

Kosher salt

1½ cups small broccoli florets

1 cup packed fresh basil

2 cloves garlic, smashed

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese


2 jars (12 ounces each) roasted red bell peppers, drained and chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 rib celery, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

1 large leek (white and light green parts only), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise

Kosher salt

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 quart low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1 small russet potato, peeled and diced

8 slices white bread

Make the pesto: Toast the almonds in a skillet over medium heat, tossing, until lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a food processor.

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Add the broccoli to the boiling water and cook until bright green, about 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to the ice water to cool, then drain and pat dry. Add the broccoli to the food processor with the almonds; add the basil, garlic and ½ teaspoon salt and pulse to make a chunky paste. With the motor running, gradually add the olive oil. Add the parmesan and pulse to combine. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto the surface; set aside until ready to use.

Make the soup: Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the celery, carrot, leek and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 7 minutes. Stir in the thyme and roasted red peppers. Push the vegetables to one side of the pot; add the tomato paste to the other side and cook, stirring, 2 minutes, then stir into the vegetables. Increase the heat to high; add the broth and 2 cups water and bring to a simmer. Add the potato and simmer until soft, about 30 minutes. Purée with an immersion blender or in a regular blender in batches; keep warm.

Toast the bread until golden and with a cookie cutter or knife, cut into tree shapes. Ladle the soup into bowls. Spread the pesto on the toast and float in the soup. Serve immediately.

Serves six.

Cook’s note: To roast your own peppers, put them on a baking sheet and broil, turning, until charred, 7-10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside 5 minutes. Peel the peppers with your fingers under running water; discard the stems and seeds.

Adapted from Food Network Magazine

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