This versatile soup will be welcome as a first course to an elegant dinner or the main course on a blustery afternoon. Its beauty is that it may be prepared a day or several ahead and will be as good as the day it was made. While you can get good boxed soups, I doubt you'll fine one that has as good a flavor as this soup. If you've only ever had Campbell's tomato soup, you really haven't lived. This soup, even when it is just tomato, has a much stronger and more complex flavor than its canned condensed cousin. When you add in the red peppers, it just gets better!
Roasting the Peppers: This is an optional step. Without the peppers you have tomato soup. Start by washing the peppers and removing the stickers. Preheat to 450F. Arrange the peppers on a cookie sheet turning every 15 minutes until somewhat blackened (about 30 minutes). Remove to a covered bowl or brown paper bag. As the steam from the peppers condenses, the skin becomes easier to peel off. No need to remove seeds, as the strainer will take care of that.
Preparing the Tomatoes: Roughly chop the onion and celery, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and saute in olive oil for five minutes in medium heat in a large pot. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and add to the pot and stir. Let cook for another five minutes. Stir in the sugar, then cover with the broth and let simmer for thirty minutes, stirring ocassionally. (add water or more broth if needed to cover the ingredients.) Remove from heat and let cool until safe to handle. Add the peeled red peppers if you are including them. Stir in and then ladel the ingredients into your strainer, bit by bit, and strain all of the mixture, separating the solids from the sauce. If the tomato puree is too thick you may dilute with some additional broth. Refrigerate until ready for use and warm to serve. Add salt just before serving, to taste. Place in bowls and add a small dollop of sour cream to each, and garnish with some croutons, crushed black pepper and a spring of parsley or cilantro.
Cream Soup Option: If you'd like a cream soup, do the following. Over medium heat, melt four tablespoons of butter in a large heavy pan and stir in four tablespoons of flour. Whisk in two cups of cream or milk until the mixture begins to thicken. Continue to whisk until the mixture is hot but not boiling. While whisking rapidly, pour the strained warm tomato mixture into the cream sauce.
How to Avoid Curdling: Acid can cause cream or milk to curdle. The tendency to curdle increases as the ratio of acid to cream, the temperature of the mixture, or the salt quantity increases. To ensure a smooth, non-curdled cream soup, follow the recipe above which separates the cooking of the tomatoes from the cream. It is also important to use the freshest cream possible. The more cream ages, the more susceptible it becomes to curdling because its lactic acid content increases. Where indicated, slowly add the acidic tomato liquid to the hot cream, being certain not to do this the other way around. Also ensure the cream sauce and tomato mixture are not hotter than 180F when blended and that you immediately remove the mixture from the heat once they are. Add the salt just before serving after the soup is removed from the heat. Should you still end up with curdled soup, you can try smoothing it with an electric stick blender or run the soup through a sive. While the soup will be edible curdled, it will have a texture your dinner guests are not expecting.