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Roasted Eggplant Soup

1.5 pounds Japanese eggplant, halved lengthwise
1 red bell pepper, halved lengthwise and seeded
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, unpeeled and halved lengthwise
3 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
8 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 fresh thyme sprigs, chopped fine
3 fresh oregano sprigs, chopped fine
3 fresh basil sprigs, chopped fine
8 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf, crumbled
twelve 1/4-inch-thick slices of French bread, toasted
3/4 pound goat's milk mozzarella, grated coarsely

In a bowl coat the eggplant and the bell pepper lightly with 1
tablespoon of the oil and season the vegetables 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 pre-heated 400degree F. oven for 10 minutes.
Put the garlic in the pan near the tomatoes, roast the vegetables
for 30 to 40 minutes more, or until the bell pepper is charred,
and let them cool. Remove the skin from the bell pepper and the
onions and coarsely chop the eggplant, the bell pepper, the onions,
and the garlic.

In a large kettle melt the butter with the remaining 3 tablespoons
oil over moderately high heat, add the chopped vegetables including
the garlic, the tomatoes, the thyme, the oregano, the basil, and
enough of the broth to just cover the mixture, and 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 the soup in batches, transferring it as it is pureed to the
cleaned kettle (the soup will be thick and textured, flecked with
black bits of the eggplant), and heat it with the remaining broth
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 to 4 minutes, or until the cheese is
golden. Ladle the soup into 6 bowls and top each serving with 2
croutons. Serves 6.

(also, instead of full slices as croutons, after broiling, with a
sharp knife the toasted bread can be cut into smaller croutons and
sprinkled onto the soup)

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