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Cibreo’s Yellow Pepper Soup

 Years ago when my daughter was studying in Florence, I had a transformative dining experience there. I ate at Cibrèo. That first dinner at Cibrèo stayed with me forever, so when my brother-in-law and sister-in-law invited me to be their guests at a villa in Florence this month, I knew Cibrèo also had to be in my future. 

After eating dinner at Cibrèo twice in the last two weeks, I’m happy to report that the food is just as good as ever.  But you don’t have to fly to Florence to savor one of Cibrèo’s signature dishes. Just make the recipe at the end of this post.
In a one-block corner of the city, you’ll find several Cibrèo eateries, including the fancy, linen-tablecloth Cibrèo restaurant. Dine there if you want to go more upscale. But to eat the same food at half the price, in a more casual setting, go to the Cibrèo trattoria across the street. No reservations taken, so it’s best to line up twenty minutes before it opens at 7 to get a seat. Because it’s small and it’s not exactly a secret.
There’s nary a pasta dish or pizza on the menu, but what does come out of the kitchen can only be described as divine, including their yellow pepper soup, or passata di peperoni gialli.
 If silk and sunshine were edible, this is how it would be done.
Start the evening at the Cibrèo cafe with a glass of prosecco or an Aperol spritz, to get you ready for the main event.  Maybe you’d prefer to spend the evening at the Cibrèo dinner theater, where it helps to know Italian.
Fabbio Picchi is the mastermind behind all these delicious eateries, and you’ll see him constantly scurrying back and forth among diners to make sure everything remains to his high standards.
 I have to confess when I showed him photos from my recent preparation of his yellow pepper soup, he scolded me because I had roasted and peeled the peppers, instead of running them through a food mill  to separate the skins from the pulp. Italians frequently use this tool (a mouli) when making tomato sauce too.

 But since I don’t own one, I roasted the peppers and peeled the skin. Sorry Fabio.

The soup was just as good as what I remembered eating at Cibrèo, even if I adapted the recipe to suit my lack of a mouli. It freezes beautifully too, so you can stockpile some for when company’s arriving, or when you’ve got a busy day and don’t have time to cook. A little heavy cream makes it luxurious.

Everything on the menu at Cibrèo is really special.

The polenta is one of my favorites. I don’t how they manage to get it so soft and creamy. I just know I had to have it, with its dribble of olive oil and scattering of parmigiano on top. So I did. I would happily eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

This ricotta and potato sformato was pretty darn special too, served with a rich ragù on the side.
And who’d have thought that crab soup would be a specialty you’d crave in Florence? Well, take my word for it, it may look drab, but any other crab soup you’ve had will pale beside this intensely flavored version.  
The main courses were equally delicious, including this casserole of sausages and beans – a classic Tuscan dish.

The roast pork loin with potatoes and spinach looked delicious too, but the one criticism was that it was served at room temperature.

I have to confess the stuffed chicken neck (replete with chicken head in the presentation) didn’t sound too appealing, but it tasted like a very good chicken paté. Be prepared – so much of the food at Cibrèo is mousse-like in texture.

But I couldn’t say no when I heard that stuffed rabbit was one of the night’s specials – with sweet cipolline onions on the side. It was tender, flavorful and I would order it again in a heartbeat. Actually, I did order again on my second visit in two weeks.

The desserts were also every bit as delicious as I remembered. The cheesecake smeared with orange marmalade was a standout.
But then again, so was the cream-filled tart topped with the tiny strawberries (fragoline) that are a specialty in Italy this time of year.
But this was the dessert I had been dreaming about since my last visit – a coffee flavored bavarian cream smothered in dark chocolate. One bite and you’re in la-la land. It’s light and luscious and rich all at the same time.
I didn’t think Cibrèo could top that, a new dessert on the menu comes close – a vanilla bavarian cream served with a puddle of reduced, sweet grape must called saba.  Now I’ve got a real problem. What to order for dessert next time?
Cibreo’s Yellow Pepper Soup
Total time: 45 minutes
1 red onion
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 yellow peppers (I used 3 and roasted them, then peeled them)
4 medium-size potatoes (I used 1 large and it was plenty)
2 cups water or chicken stock
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 glass of milk (It’s good with just milk, but use heavy cream if you want a really rich taste)
2 bay leaves
Homemade croutons to garnish.
1. Chop onion, carrot and celery. Fry them in olive oil until golden in a heavy casserole large enough to hold all the vegetables.
2. Devein and chop peppers. (I roasted the peppers and peeled them, then added them to the blender along with the other cooked vegetables) Peel and chop potatoes. Add to casserole along with about two cups of water or stock (or half water and half stock), enough to cover vegetables. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Simmer 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Pass the vegetables through a shredder or a Mouli to remove skins. Puree in a blender or food processor. (After soup has been liquified, it should not be boiled again or it will lose its color and taste).
4. Return soup to heat and add milk, which will remove any remaining acidity in the peppers and give the soup a smoother consistency. Add bay leaves. Heat through without boiling. Correct seasoning and remove from heat.
5. Take out the bay leaves. Serve soup in heated individual bowls garnished with croutons. If you need to reheat the soup, heat it in a double boiler.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.