Yellow Pepper Soup
I first tasted this soup at Cibreo, the Florentine restaurant famous for not serving pasta. Florida State has a study abroad program in Florence, and the first time we spent a semester there was the fall of 1992. I fell in love with Cibreo, which then consisted of two restaurants on a corner near the Sant’Ambrogio market. One was a simple trattoria that didn’t take reservations and the other was an elegant restaurant with an extensive wine list. They served the same dishes, but the restaurant coddled you and gave tastes of dishes you didn’t order and there were flowers and you got to stay for three or four hours instead of 45 minutes to an hour at the trattoria.
Sue Capitani, the director of our program, told us that Cibreo used to be a communist restaurant, and the trattoria was for the workers and the restaurant for the party elite. When they went private, they kept the same structure.
We started out by going to the trattoria, but we had something to celebrate so we went to the restaurant. It was magic. The waiters were handsome and David’s Italian was good and we fell in love with the place and found that we had more and more to celebrate. In 1992 the dollar was stronger, and the Euro hadn’t done its miserable anti-magic on prices all over Europe. Now an entrée at the restaurant is three or four times what it is at the trattoria, so we are back in the trattoria. Everything has changed. A supper club and a café have been added to the Cibreo empire. The owner, Fabio Picchi, and his wife Benedetta split, and now she has a wonderful restaurant Zibibbo in the hills above Florence.
However, some things never change, and both restaurants serve this sublime passato di peperoni or yellow pepper soup. It has a beautiful golden color, and it is like eating sunshine. It’s creamy, but no cream or milk is added. The potatoes give it the silky texture. I usually like an easy recipe, but this isn’t one. You have to roast the peppers (instructions after the recipe), which is a colossal pain the first time you but becomes easier the more you do it. Let me assure you that all your work will be rewarded. This is a gorgeous soup. I always double the recipe. It freezes beautifully, and it is like having gold in your refrigerator.
I have adapted this recipe from Patricia Wells’ Trattoria.. She actually asked the Picchis for the recipe. I came back from Italy in 1992, wanting to learn how to cook, and Trattoria was one of the books that showed me how to do it. Wells’ recipes are clear, and they all work. I also love her Provencal cookbook, too. Both of them are dog eared and splattered and coming apart at the seams. Her tarts are easy and divine.
Yellow Pepper Soup
- 2 Tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large carrot chopped fine
- 1 rib of celery, chopped fine
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- 6 yellow bell peppers, roasted and sliced
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 quart of water
- 2 cups of chicken stock (for a vegetarian soup, use more water or vegetable broth)
In a large pot combine the olive oil, carrot, celery, and onion, and cook over a moderate heat until the vegetables are soft. Add the sliced peppers and their juice and cook for a few minutes more. Season with salt and then add the potatoes, water, and chicken stock, cover, and cook over a medium heat until the potatoes are soft, 30 minutes.
Wait until the soup cools a bit and then puree. I use my Cuisinart. Serve in soup bowls and drizzle with dollops of olive oil.
How to roast peppers
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the peppers on a cookie sheet and put it in the oven.
Keep an eye on the peppers, turning them so that they roast on all sides, including top and bottom. You don’t want to puncture the peppers, because then all their juice will escape, and it is delicious. You also don’t want to burn the skin. You want it to blister, so you can peel the skin off easily.
Once the skin has blistered, remove the peppers from the oven and put them in a paper bag, and let them cool. When they are cool, peel them in a bowl, so you retain the juices. Remove the skins and seeds and slice the peppers into strips.