|Roasted Eggplant Soup with Mozzarella Croutons|
**Roasted Eggplant Soup with Mozzarella Croutons**
1-1/2 lbs eggplant, halved lengthwise
1 red bell pepper, halved lengthwise and seeded
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 onions, unpeeled and halved lengthwise
3 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
8 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 fresh thyme sprigs, chopped finely
3 fresh oregano sprigs, chopped finely
3 fresh basil sprigs, chopped finely
8 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf, crumbled
12 (1/4-inch) thick slices French baguette toasted
3/4 lb goat's milk mozzarella, grated coarsely
In a bowl coat the eggplant and the bell pepper lightly with 1 T of the oil and season with salt and pepper. In a foil-lined roasting pan arrange the eggplant, skin sides down, the bell pepper, skin sides up, the onions, cut sides down, and the tomatoes, cut sides down, and roast the vegetables in the upper third of a preheated 400F oven for 10 minutes.
Put the garlic in the pan near the tomatoes, roast the vegetables for 30 - 40 minutes or until the bell pepper is charred. Let them cool.
Remove the skin from the bell pepper and the onions and coarsely chop the eggplant, bell pepper, onions and garlic.
In a large pot melt the butter with the remaining 3 T oil over moderately high heat, add the chopped vegetables including the garlic, tomatoes, thyme,oregano, basil and enough of the broth to just cover the mixture. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the bay leaf and simmer the soup for 30 minutes, or until it is thickened slightly.
In a blender or food processor puree soup in batches. Transfer it as it is back to the pot (the soup will be thick and textured with black bits of the eggplant). Add the remaining broth and heat over moderately low heat until it is heated through.
Arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet, sprinkle them with mozzarella, and broil the croutons under a preheated broiler about 4 inches from the heat for 3 - 4 minutes, or until the cheese is golden. Ladle the soup into 6 bowls and top each serving with 2 croutons. (Instead of full sized croutons, after broiling, the toasted croutons can be cut into smaller croutons and sprinkled onto the soup).
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