Preheat oven to 350°. Spread pesto on 1 side of each bread slice. Cut each bread slice into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes. Place bread cubes in a single layer on a lightly greased aluminum foil-lined jelly-roll pan.
Bake at 350° for 16 to 20 minutes or until golden, turning once after 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool.
Melt butter with oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add garlic and shallot, and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add tomato paste, and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Stir in bell peppers and chicken broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool 10 minutes.
Process red pepper mixture, in batches, in a blender or food processor 8 to 10 seconds until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides. Return red pepper mixture to Dutch oven; stir in half-and-half and parsley, and cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Ladle soup into 6 bowls; top with croutons. Garnish, if desired.
I made this the way the recipe stated plus two chipotle peppers (from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce but omitted the sauce) to spice it up, & it tasted horrible. Not edible..bitter. Then, I added some diced tomatoes & made it worse -- more bitter & acidic. Then, I added 2 cans of store bought tomato soup & some whipping cream, a tsbp of sugar, and that mellowed it out enough where I could eat it. Everyone I served it to loved it--good amount of spice --jazzy tomato soup, essentially. It was still a little 'zingy' for me. It has potential, but 'as is' it is not very good. I've been asked to make it again, so I must have fixed it in a good way...they would not be asking for it again if it was made as the recipe states. It was really fast & easy to make, though...the reason I'm trying to perfect it.
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