Corn and Red Pepper Bisque

Today’s chill in the air got me thinking once again about soup, and one of the favorites served as a first course over the years at our Thanksgiving dinners.  One thing I always try to avoid in a menu is redundancy.  If there’s butternut squash as a side, there’s no butternut squash soup to begin.  So whenever that’s the case, I’d prepare this gorgeously golden corn bisque with red bell pepper.

This recipe first appeared in Bon Appetit in 1998; I discovered it a few years later and have had it on our Thanksgiving menu several times.  It’s one of those simple dishes that’s short on effort and long on flavor – but only if you use the sweetest, most golden corn you can find.  Otherwise the result will not achieve greatness.  Trader Joe’s Supersweet Organic Corn beats all other in this regard, and I always make sure to buy mine well ahead of time because a few years ago they ran out…and my search for a substitute took forever combing the frozen vegetable aisles of half a dozen markets.Unknown

The soup can be prepared a day or two ahead, needing only to taken out of the fridge for about an hour and then reheated before serving.

CORN BISQUE WITH RED BELL PEPPER AND ROSEMARY

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INGREDIENTS:

1/2 stick unsalted butter (4 tbsp)

2 cups chopped sweet onions

1/2 cup each diced carrot & celery

7-1/2 cups Trader Joe’s Organic Supersweet Corn (about 42 ounces or 2-1/2 packages)

2 tsp minced fresh rosemary

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (this tiny bit adds a nice kick to the whole pot)

6 cups chicken broth

1 cup half & half

1 red bell pepper chopped

PREPARATION:

In a large heavy pot such as a 5-quart Dutch oven, melt 3 tbsp of the butter and sauté the onions, carrots and celery on medium high about 3 minutes.  Add 5-1/2 cups of the corn, the rosemary and cayenne and sauté another 2 minutes.  Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer uncovered about 30 minutes.

Working in batches, pureé the soup in a blender (I originally did this step with an immersion blender, but the Vitamix works so much better).  Return soup to the pot, stir in the half & half and the remaining 2 cups of corn.  Season to taste with salt and pepper – it may not need any.

Melt the remaining  1 tbsp of butter in a large skillet over medium high heat and sauté the red bell pepper until almost tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir into the soup.  Done!

This recipe makes about 3-1/2 quarts of soup, enough for at least 12-14 first-course servings, maybe with some leftovers.

Harvest Fruit Puff Pastry Strudel

Over twenty years ago I fell in love with a recipe in Gourmet for a Harvest Tart – a combination of fresh and dried fruits, nuts, butter, sweetener and liqueur – baked in a sweet pastry crust and topped with a lattice crust.  It was a sophisticated and popular dessert at our Thanksgiving table.  The thick, slightly chunky fruit & nut filling was remarkably similar to the filling my mother used for her strudel – a taste memory I was thrilled to replicate.

Flash forward several years later to a few days after our Passover Seder, when I had an abundance of leftover “charoses”  Charoses (also spelled haroseth) is often just a forgettable mixture of chopped apples, walnuts and sweet wine, but the version I make is from an outstanding recipe in the NYT Passover Cookbook, incorporating a palette of ingredients very much like the filling for the above-referenced tart.  Rather than toss it or use it as a semi-chutney side dish, I experimented with turning it into a strudel like my mother’s, but baked in store-bought Pepperidge Farm puff pastry.  It worked!  And it tasted so much like my mother’s wonderfully complex fruit strudel that I did shed some tears of joy.

Now skip ahead to 2017, when all my instincts tell me that the Harvest Tart filling, when baked in Trader Joe’s wildly superior all-butter puff pastry, will yield a strudel worthy of center stage on your dinner-party dessert menu – especially for Thanksgiving.

Being under no time constraints to prepare this, I made the fruit filling yesterday and have let it chill in fridge before assembling and baking today.  This could actually be done a few days in advance of assembly and baking.  So let’s review the filling, because all that’s left after that is a package of TJ’s puff pastry thawed for 2 hours, rolled out to be filled and brushed with an egg wash, and baked:

HARVEST FRUIT PUFF PASTRY STRUDEL

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FILLING:

1 tart, crisp apple such as Empire or Granny Smith and 1 firm-ripe pear, such as Bartlett or Anjou, both peeled & coarsely chopped

8  ounces pitted prunes

6 ounces dried Calmyrna figs, stem tips removed

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup dried cherries or apricots

1-2 tsp grated orange rind

1/4 cup sugar

4 tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1/2 cup Grand Marnier

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PASTRY:

1 package Trader Joe’s all-butter Puff Pastry (2 sheets weighing 18.3 ounces) defrosted for 2 hours and each rolled on a floured board to a 12 x 10″ rectangle

(NOTE: You could use Pepperidge Farm puff pastry if TJ’s is not available, but it’s made with shortening instead of butter.  The TJ’s is all-butter, from France, just like Dufour, but at $3.99/box it’s about 1/3 the price of a 14-ounce box of Dufour)

EGG WASH:

1 egg lightly beaten with 1 tbsp water

PREPARATION:

Combine all fresh and dried fruits and orange rind in a large saucepan with enough water to cover and simmer, stirring frequently, until softened – about 10 minutes.  Drain in a sieve or colander, and return to the pot with the butter, sugar and nuts, and simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.   Coarsely chop the mixture in two batches in food processor with a few quick pulses, and remove to a covered container for storage in refrigerator.
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When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.   Gently roll out each sheet of puff pastry to about 10 x 12″  – they are almost that size to begin with – and spread 1/2 of the fruit filling on each, starting about 1″ from the bottom of one end, to cover about 2/3 of the sheet, leaving a 1/2″ margin on left and right edge.  Fold the bottom edge up over the filling and fold the other two edges in as well.   Then roll each into a log, making sure ends are tucked in.  Carefully move them to the parchment-lined baking sheet, lightly brush with egg wash, and make 5 or 6 shallow diagonal knife slashes across the top.  Bake until puffed and golden, about 35 minutes.  With a long spatula, carefully move to a rack to cool completely.  Cut on the diagonal into sections about 1 – 1-1/2 inches wide for serving.  Store in air-tight container.

NOTE:  If you seem to have more fruit filling than needed, reserve some as a delightful spread for toast or English muffins.