Test Kitchen recipe: Serve chowder as a meal or side dish

Sometimes a bowl of soup, with some crusty bread, can suffice as dinner. Just about any variety of soup can be comforting, warm and filled with hearty ingredients.

Today’s chowder recipe falls into the general soup category and does all of that and then some. What’s best about this chowder is its sweet and smoky taste, all from the roasted red peppers. It also gets a bit of heat from cayenne pepper, which is optional and gets cooled off with the milk or cream. Besides taste, another bonus is that it’s a beautiful chowder with deep flavors that will impress guests.

How does chowder differ from a soup? A chowder is classified as any kind of thick soup that has chunks of food in it. Those chunks can be vegetables, seafood or meat. Most chowders are cream- or milk-based, which also gives them body and a slight thickness. Raw cubed potato is used in many chowders as an ingredient, but also because its starch provides thickening. For best results, use russet potatoes because they won’t have that crumbly texture like a baking potato does once it’s cooked. It’s that chunky texture of a chowder that sets it apart from, say, a smooth bisque.

Roasted red peppers are at the heart of this chowder. Once the peppers are roasted, their sweetness is more pronounced. They also take on charred, smoky flavor which adds a boost to any dish.

In this recipe, the pepper pieces get that charred effect in the pot. But if you are in a pinch, substitute a 12-ounce jar of roasted red peppers found in the condiment aisle. If you do use jarred roasted peppers, drain them well and pat with paper towels. With jarred peppers, skip the charring step in this recipe and add them to the pot once the onions are tender and browned.

One easy way to jazz this chowder up is to top it with seafood. Cooked lobster meat is terrific, fancy and something to swoon over. No lobster? Try cooked shrimp — whole or cut into pieces.

Sweet Roasted Red Pepper Chowder

Serves: 4

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

You can substitute a 12-ounce jar of roasted red peppers; drain before using. Add the peppers once the onions are browned.

Nonstick cooking spray or 2 Tbsp. canola oil

1 lb. red sweet peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)

2 cups chopped sweet onions (about 1 jumbo)

1 large russet or Yukon gold potato (10 ounces), peeled and cubed

1 cup vegetable broth

1 1/2 cups 1 percent milk or half-and-half

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste

1 Tbsp. butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Croutons for garnish or a crusty baguette for serving

1/2 cup shredded (2 ounces) white sharp cheddar cheese, optional

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Coat a 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and give them a few mists of cooking spray. Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until charred, stirring frequently. If you don’t have cooking spray, heat the canola oil, once hot, add the peppers and cook as directed above.

Add the onions and cook for 5 to 6 minutes more or until soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally. Stir in the potatoes and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 12 minutes or until potatoes are very tender.

Coarsely mash up the potatoes a bit with a potato masher. Stir in the milk or half-and-half and a few pinches of cayenne pepper. Heat through.

Remove from heat; stir in butter and season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide among shallow soup bowls and top with croutons and, if using, cheese and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Serve with additional crusty bread if desired.

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, September 2015 issue.

Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen. Nutrition information not available.