Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Basque Shepherd’s Cheese Grilled Sandwich

I don’t know why, but this winter season has felt and still feels (even though officially spring arrived a while ago…) like taking forever. Last Tuesday was soooo cold, that we had to turn on the heat again, just when we thought we were done with it 😦
I was working in my kitchen, filling a bunch of chocolate orders, and although most of the times when I’m making truffles I get so into it, and time seems to fly, I don’t even remember to have lunch (a bad thing… I know…), but last Tuesday the cold got to me, within my bones… so I had to have soup, but I wanted to make something quick, yet comforting, cause I had to get back to work, so Tomato and Red Roasted Pepper Soup came to the rescue.

I accompanied it with a kicked up classic: Grilled cheese Sandwich, but not just any grilled cheese sandwich, I used Basque Shepperd’s Cheese… mmmm Delicious!

Tomato and Roasted Read Pepper Soup

It sure did it’s job and got me back to work, all warmed up and energized too!
This recipe is adapted from the Food Network, Down with the Neelys, I changed a couple of things, since I wanted to make the soup vegan to see how it turned out.
Here is what you will need:
Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper 
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Vidalia onion, choppedtomato soup
1 Carrot (I omitted this, since I didn’t want the soup to be too sweet)
2 Cloves of garlic (I added one more, I love garlic)

Kosher Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon of tomato paste
1 (14.5 oz.) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 (12 oz.) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped (I used Belarra Piquillo Peppers, they are my favorite)
2 1/2 cups of low sodium vegetable broth
2 teaspoons of sugar (I also omitted this for the same reason, and I’m glad I did because the soup came out just perfectly sweet for my taste)
1/2 unsweetened almond milk

Basil, I used cilantro cause I didn’t have basil at hand and it was very tasty too.
Heat the olive oil in a 2 quart saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion and carrot and saute until tender, about five minutes. Add garlic and saute until just fragrant. Season with salt and pepper. Add tomato paste and cook until toasted, just one more minute.Add tomatoes, red pepper, vegetable broth and let simmer for 25 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the flavors have melded together. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper and sugar if needed. Add the almond milk and basil, puree using a hand held immersion blender until smooth.Serve in soup bowls with a sprinkle of fresh basil on top, cilantro in my case.

Basque Shepherds cheese
Now, let me tell you a little bit about this delicious cheese…
It’s real name is: AOC Ossau – Iraty because it’s there were it’s produced, in southwestern France in two neighboring provinces: the Ossau Valley in the Bearn and the Iraty Forests of the Basque Country (Pays Basque)The three initials before it’s name mean: appellation d’origine controlee which only means that this product has been certified to be produced with the special characteristics of that particular geographical area. Along with Roquefort these are the only two sheep milk cheeses with AOC status in France.It’s uncooked, pressed cheese handcrafted with raw, unpasteurized milk from Manech and Basco-Bearnaise Sheep, and has to be aged at least for 90 days to reach it’s fatty, sweet and nutty perfection.

It has been called the grandfather of Basque Cheeses, made the traditional way by Basque Shepherd’s for millenia.

It’s so good, that it’s in the book: “1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die”

I simply lightly buttered two pieces of Soft Rustico Multigrain Bread, added some cheese and grilled it, perfect pairing for this delicious smoky soup.

grilled cheese
Enjoy with a nice glass of red wine, for me it had to be Rioja Wine of course… 🙂 and there you have it:
Total comfort food on a plate.
Basque Shepherd's Cheese - Rioja Wine

Hearty Pumpkin Soup with Hazelnut Pesto

Today I need soup, we just made through a bad snow storm, I’m not sure how many inches yet, but I know it’s well over a foot (30 cm +). So I decided to make a sweet and nutty pumpkin soup and garnish it with super fresh hazelnut pesto. Hazelnut by the way is my favorite nut. I don’t usually make this soup because I’m the only one in the house that really likes it… 😉
It’s super simple yet very comforting.
Hearty Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Hazelnut Pesto
For the soup:
1 pumpkin about 4 lb. (2 kg) total weight,
15 cloves of garlic
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water
2 leeks (only white and tender green parts)
5 cups of broth
Salt and white pepper
pinch of turmeric (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Cut and peel the pumpkin into slices 1 inch thick.
Prepare a roasting pan, combine the pumpkin and garlic, drizzle over with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, pour the water. Roast stirring occasionally until gold and soft for about an hour. Remove from oven and let cool for a bit.
While everything is in the oven, in a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the remaining olive oil and saute the chopped leeks until golden brown (about 15 minutes)
Then add to the pot the roasted pumpkin and garlic cloves with the broth and using an immersion blender (if you don’t have one you can use your regular blender and do this in batches) pureé until very smooth, bring to a simmer over medium heat, and season to taste with salt, pepper and turmeric.
Ladle into warmed soup bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt, the super easy nutty hazelnut pesto and chopped hazelnuts.
Hazelnut Pesto
For the hazelnut pesto:
2 cloves of garlic
2 cups of fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup of parsley
2 tablespoons of hazelnuts
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
the juice of half a lemon
3/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
water (to adjust thickness to your taste)
In a food processor combine the garlic, the herbs and process until finely chopped.
Add the nuts and again  process until finally chopped. With the motor running add the lemon juice and slowly pour the olive oil. Process until thick.
Add the Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste and process to mix. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

**Secret to keep your pesto super green: Blanch the basil leaves in boiling water for 5 seconds! it’s simply wonderful!!!**