Smoky Eggplant Soup with Red Pepper Cream

2 large eggplants
1 red bell pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups broth
flat-leaf parsley sprigs

Preheat an oven to 375°F.

Using tongs, hold each eggplant over the flame of a gas stove and turn occasionally until blackened on all sides, about 10 minutes. Alternatively, blacken the skins over a charcoal fire. Place the blackened eggplant on a baking sheet. Bake until very tender when pierced with a knife, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Peel off the skin and reserve the flesh.

Preheat a broiler. Cut the bell pepper in half lengthwise and remove the stem, seeds and ribs. Place, cut sides down, on a baking sheet and broil until blackened and blistered. Remove from the broiler and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Let steam until cool enough to handle, 10 to 15 minutes, then peel off the skin. Transfer the pepper to a blender or a food processor fitted with the metal blade and puree until very smooth. In a small bowl, whisk the cream until soft peaks form. Fold in the pepper puree and season with cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Cover and refrigerate the red pepper cream.

In a soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the eggplant flesh and the broth, bring to a simmer and simmer, uncovered, until the eggplant falls apart, about 30 minutes. Using a blender and working in batches, puree the soup on high speed until smooth, 3 to 4 minutes for each batch. Season with salt. If the soup is too thick, add water until it is the consistency of heavy cream.

Ladle into warmed bowls and spoon some red pepper cream over each serving. Garnish with parsley sprigs and serve immediately with any remaining red pepper cream on the side.

Serves 6.

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