Smoked Tomato and Red Pepper Bisque with Parmigiano-Reggiano Croutons
The oversized croutons served with this vibrant soup can be made ahead in a batch and kept on hand to use as a tangy topping for other soups, in salads, or as an instant nibble with drinks. Recipe by chef Tracy O'Grady of Willow Restaurant in Arlington, VA.
Heat the oven to 325˚F. Place the bread slices on a nonstick baking sheet and drizzle with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the slices. Bake until lightly browned and crisp, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
SMOKED TOMATO & RED PEPPER:
Use a large pot with a steamer insert. Place the wood chips in the bottom of the pot with the insert on top. Set over high heat and cover. Check to see that the smoke turns from white (mostly water vapor) to dark gray, then place the tomato, scored side up, and the red pepper into the steamer insert and cover. Reduce the heat to medium and smoke for 15 minutes. Set aside.
Warm the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the fennel, leek, and garlic and sauté until they are well colored. Add the wine and sherry; increase the heat to high and deglaze, stirring until the mixture is thickened and reduced. Add the smoked tomato and pepper, canned tomatoes, and basil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Add the cream and simmer 15 minutes longer. Remove the pot from the heat. Puree the soup in a blender, adding more cream if necessary to yield a smooth consistency. Season with salt and additional sherry to taste. Spoon each serving into a bowl and float a crouton on top. O’Grady garnishes the soup with olive tapenade, shredded basil leaves, and drops of basil oil.