I have come to love many things about Texas since our move here 3 years ago. Texans themselves top my list: come for a visit and you’ll soon find that Southern hospitality is very real.
Nevertheless, I’m compelled to condemn an entire subpopulation of Texas residents; the judgment is long overdue. Nasty to the core, they populate every corner, crook, and cranny of the state. They make life miserable for one and all, and from what I’ve been able to discern firsthand—combined with stories from both friends and strangers—they are ruthless, despicable, and altogether pointless.
I’m talking fire ants.
My ire is piqued because one of the blasted buggers bit me on the foot last week. The bites turn into painful, scarlet pimples and they last about a week. But this one got infected to the point where I developed a 101 degree fever, indescribable aches, and finally a bright red calf and foot, swollen to the proportions of a baby elephant leg.
I realize this is not the most appetizing subject, and I haven’t forgotten that this is a food blog, but the two are intertwined. The antibiotics I’ve been taking for the past days have made me uber-nauseated; the thought of cooking and eating food has been unbearable. At several points I have been unable to watch the Food Network (gasp!). Kevin understood just how miserable I was feeling when I insisted we change the channel from a chocolate-caramel candy edition of Unwrapped.
But I’ve finished the antibiotoics, and last night I was ready for my return stoveside. Nick went to Mother’s Day Out yesterday morning (that’s preschool here in Texas), so I had the morning to scheme. Spicy, heavy food was out, but I still wanted something filling and cozy. The solution was clear: soup and bread. After some perusing through my files and magazines, I settled on creamy tomato soup and olive-orange focaccia.
The tomato soup is an adaptation of Joanne Weir’s creamy tomato soup, a recipe that appeared in Fine Cooking several years back. It’s wonderful when basil is in abundance, but I had a good feeling it would work well with a hint of fall flavor, too. Specifically, sage. I both simplified and lightened the recipe in two significant ways. First, I use canned tomatoes in place of the seeded fresh tomatoes she called for. Next, I used canned fat free evaporated milk in place of the heavy cream. Finally, I slashed the olive oil to 1 tablespoon (the original called for 4). I am happy to report that the result was slurpy heaven.
The only semi-fussy step is the blending of the soup. A stick blender is a great for many types of soup, but for this one, a blender is essential for achieving a silken texture. Be sure to blend the soup in small batches, without the top (cover with a dishtowel instead); otherwise, you may spend the night (a) cleaning tomato soup off the ceiling, and/or (b) visiting the emergency room for treatment of 3rd degree burns.
The focaccia recipe is from the October 2008 issue of Cooking Light. My husband and I turn into ravenous fiends in the presence of fresh-baked focaccia; it’s one of my favorite breads to bake, and since I love olives, too, this sounded like a winner. It is! Here’s the link:
Focaccia with Olives & Garlic
The only modifications I made were to use white whole wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour and and to sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of orange zest and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary over the top before baking. I had some heavenly rosemary & orange-marinated olives at lunch in Healdsburg, California last time my husband and I visitied the Bay Area, and I’ve been wanting to combine the two flavors in a dish ever since. Even the skeptic gave an enthusiastic thumbs up. Dunked in the tomato soup? The perfect ANTidote to all that had been ailing me. :)
Creamy Tomato Soup with Sage
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup canned tomato paste
2 teaspoons dry rubbed sage
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
4 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup canned fat-free evaporated milk
2 tespoons balsamic vinegar
Optional: sage leaves to garnish
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, sage, broth, the 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to the onions. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium low and let simmer 20 minutes. Let cool 10-15 minutes.
In a blender, purée the soup in batches until very smooth, at least 3 minutes. Return to pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat; stir in the evaporated milk and vinegar. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Ladle the hot soup into bowls and garnish with the sage leaves, if desired. Makes 6 generous servings.
Nutrition per serving (about 1 and 1/2 cups soup):
Calories 89; Fat 2.5g (poly 0.5g, mono 1.4g, sat 0.4g); Protein 2.3g; Cholesterol 0mg; Carbohydrate 14.6g; Sodium 140mg; Fiber 2.9g)
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)