Devilishly spicy tomato soup

You guys, it’s happened.

I have officially become more accustomed to spicy foods than my husband.

The man who introduced me to sriracha, Cholula (chipotle, lime, AND original), Tapatio, Co-Op, all manner of Buffalo wings and wasabi-flavored delights, and who taught me that a little shake of red pepper flakes was often the unknown and unknowable Something that I felt was sometimes from my soups and sautes.  The man who squeezes rooster sauce all over his Thai takeout before even tasting it.

This man.

I made some smooth tomato soup this evening that was optionally spicy, and compulsorily stupid-easy. The way it’s written about here is accurate:  it is indeed racy.  But the consistency and, to an extent, the flavor are so close to that condensed, canned tomato nostalgia that lives in my heart, right next to the buttered-bread-and-American-singles grilled cheese of yore that, combined with the heat factor, the soup remains wholly approachable and calls to me even now from its jar in the fridge.  (After lunch at Pleasant House earlier today, I was full and happy and completely convinced that I was done eating for the rest of the day/my life. This soup is trying to tell me otherwise.)

So you are given the option to use 1/2 or 1 full teaspoon of red pepper flakes.  Doubting that anyone else’s “spicy” is my husband’s “spicy,” I used the full teaspoon.

Snap, crackle, pop:  my eyes got a little stingy while stirring this, but I figured it was the onions, to which it turns out I am hyper-sensitive. (True story:  we keep swimming goggles in the kitchen drawer specifically for when I need to take down more than one onion at a time).

What? It’ll be fine.

And anyway, the tomatoes, I told myself, would mellow it all out.  I had 2 big cans of diced tomatoes from when I thought I needed them for pizza sauce (silly me), and felt smiled upon by angels when I saw the Food52 recipe sitting in my email the other day.
What I especially love about this recipe is that there is like zero fine motor skill involved.  Okay, maybe some basic knife handling, but the blessed absence of a fine dice here is exactly what I need after a holiday season of impressive (but tedious) kitchen wizardry.  You cut an onion in to lazy half-moon slices, you splash olive oil in a pot, you let it sizzle away with an imprudent amount of red pepper flakes, and you unceremoniously dump in two cans of whatever chunky tomato product you have on hand.  (Recipe called for whole peeled tomatoes; I had diced – you blend it all to smithereens anyway.)  You add a fistful of basil leaves – WHOLE! hallelujah! – and pinches of salt and pepper, and you are done with the cooking.

Glowing from the heat factor and my delicious achievement, I had Danny try some as soon as I had gotten a tiny bowlful through the strainer.  He tasted it, sat still for a moment, then his eyes got big.  He turned to me, a confused look on his face:  “This… this is really spicy.”  He paused, I looked at him evenly; obviously he was going to flip out any second in spicy soup rapture.  His eyebrows raised, eyes remaining large, as if what he was about to say was shocking even to him.  “Almost… too spicy.”  I couldn’t believe it.
“Is it spicy to you??” he asked, incredulous.  “I mean, yeah, quite spicy, but in a good way.  I think it’s kind of perfect.”  I left the room to finish straining the rest of the soup, confident that he would come around.  A world in which something is too hot for Danny is a world that truly does not, cannot exist.

The only step about this that I will look into consolidating next time is the blending.  I did it with my regular blender this time, wondering if my stick blender, powerful as it is, was up to the challenge of smithereening.  It might have been, and if I am going to let this soup live up to its full F* the World Potential, I should just let the stick blender do its thing.

Otherwise, this soup is pretty much perfect.  A holy grail of easy, healthy, crazy flavorful, and, ahem, thoroughly warming.  Don’t be such a baby.

An adaptation of Food52’s adaptation of a Barbara Lynch recipe.  Game of telephone.

Get this:
2 T olive oil
1 small yellow onion, peeled, halved, and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
1 t red pepper flakes – DO IT.
2 big cans (that’ll be the 28 ouncer) whole peeled tomatoes OR diced tomatoes – whatever you have.
1.5 c water
.25 c loosely packed fresh basil leaves, left whole because we win.
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

(The Food52 recipe calls for optional creme fraiche as garnish/finisher, which I am sure is lovely.  I am thinking of throwing in a few shards of applewood smoked cheddar from Carr Valley instead.  Mainly because I have that, and I do not have creme fraiche.)

Do this:
Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent and relatively limp – maybe 10 minutes.

Throw in the contents of those canned tomatoes, juices and all, plus the water, and bring it all to a boil.  Reduce the heat after that to a simmer, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Kill the heat, stir in the basil leaves, salt and pepper.

Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large (not plastic) bowl.  If you have a powerful (i.e. not ancient) stick blender, you should use it here and blend everything in the pot until smooth.  If you don’t, or if you are not taking chances today, puree (seriously:  PUREE) the soup in batches.  Take the small cap off the top of the blender lid and cover that space with a folded paper towel so you don’t get hot tomato mayhem all over your pretty face a la Carrie.  This way the steam can escape without making the lid pop off.

Pour the blended soup through the strainer, using a ladle to press the soup through, leaving the solids in the strainer.  (I saved the spicy tomato goo goodness to put on eggs, peasant breakfast, beans, etc etc.  You can, but don’t have to.)  Taste and season with more salt & pepper if necessary.

If you’re eating this now, return it to the pot and warm it back up.  If you’re not, throw it in a big jar/container and let it call to you for the next 24 hours.  I am so putting the last of that smoked cheddar wedge in mine.

Tell me what you think...

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