Another recipe from Ari, for all us tomato-lovers. -Jillian
To quote Calvin Trillin, “. . . pappa al pomodoro, (is) the bread-and-tomato soup that is somehow missing from most of the supposedly Tuscan restaurants in America.” He wrote that a number of years ago, but in rereading his quote, I think it still holds true — for some reason this soup rarely shows up on restaurant menus (at least ones that I’ve seen). It is really good, and rereading this bit, I think I’m reminded how good it is. In fact, I’m probably going to go ahead and make some in the next day or so — it’s really that good. In our part of the world there are only about eight weeks a year when it’s worth making and those eight weeks are now!
If you aren’t familiar with Pappa al Pomodoro, it’s a great and exceptionally easy to make Tuscan tomato and bread soup. Like most of the foods I love, it relies on great ingredients — good tomatoes, excellent Tuscan olive oil, fresh garlic, and good bread. Like all good country recipes, there are hundreds of variations, so every book you look in and everyone you talk to is going to give you a slightly different version. But if you’ve never made it, here’s the simple overview:
Chop a couple cloves of fresh garlic and saute in a lot of olive oil slowly ’til it’s soft (you can also add some chopped onion if like. Or the sun-dried organic garlic from the Mahjoubs in Tunisia is great as well — very sweet and very good). Lightly seed four or five good-sized tomatoes and then cut into chunks. (Actually, I recommend roasting the tomatoes to char their skins first, a tip I learned from Judy Rodgers excellent “Zuni Cafe Cookbook” – just roast over an open flame as you would bell peppers, cool slightly then slide off any charred skins.) Add the tomatoes to the oil and garlic for 10 or 15 minutes, enough to cook the tomatoes but not so much that you turn them into a dense paste.
Then cut about the same amount of leftover bread as you did tomatoes (Rustic Italian, Paesano or Farm bread would all work well). Add it to the pot along with a bit of broth or water. Simmer for another fifteen minutes. The soup should be pretty thick, the texture of a hearty bean soup. Add a good dose of chopped fresh basil, some sea salt and black pepper to taste. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and let stand for about ten or fifteen minutes so that the bread absorbs the liquid.
When you’re ready to serve, give the soup a quick stir. Be gentle so that the bread maintains its shape and texture — there should be chunks of bread in the soup, not breadcrumbs. The texture of the soup should sort of resemble a very loose bread pudding almost. Ladle it into warm bowls then pour on a very generous ribbon of full flavored fruity olive oil — the oil is one of the key flavors so the bigger more interesting the oil you choose the better the soup will be. If you want you can make a “cross” on the soup with the oil on each bowl before serving as they do in Tuscany. To my taste, the more oil the better.
Serve with sea salt and pepper and a nice green salad and you’ve got a pretty great meal. -Ari