Pappa al Pomodoro
Pappa al Pomodoro is an incredibly easy and inexpensive bread-and-tomato based soup originating from Tuscany. ‘Soup’ may not actually be the correct term to apply to this dish – as its texture more closely resembles that of a stew or savory porridge – but by any name it’s a delicious late spring or early summer meal requiring few ingredients and no special culinary expertise. It’s an especially perfect dish if you’ve got some over-the-hill tomatoes or day-old bread on hand that you’d rather use than discard, or if you’re expecting vegetarian guests and need something with lots of bold flavors to impress.
Don’t let the instructions below dissuade you from giving this a try – it’s well worth it even if you can’t quite envision how its textures or flavors will come together. When I first stumbled across the recipe in Louise Pickford’s brilliant bistro cookbook Al Fresco, I too was skeptical of how bits of soggy bread floating in a tomato broth could produce something desirably edible. As in so much cooking, however, the ingredients sometimes do not paint an accurate picture of the final product … and if the number of times I’ve shoveled a spoonful of this soup into my mouth today is any indication, it’s definitely a winner!
Note: the recipe calls for vegetable stock, but I substituted this with chicken instead. If you’re intending the soup to be vegetarian then by all means use vegetable stock, but I personally found the result to be tastier with chicken broth.
PAPPA AL POMODORO
2 pounds ripe red tomatoes, chopped
1 1/4 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp white sugar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 sprigs fresh oregano, chopped
4 sprigs fresh basil, chopped + 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil, to serve
Freshly ground black pepper
4 slices dried Italian bread, crusts removed
2 fresh garlic cloves, halved
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve
1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine chopped tomatoes, vegetable stock, sugar, 2 tablespoons olive oil and chopped fresh herbs. Add a pinch each of salt and pepper, stir to incorporate, and heat mixture slowly to boiling point. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Toast bread over a stove-top grill pan until browned and slightly charred. Rub the entire surface of bread with halved garlic cloves and transfer to a plate. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and, using a fork, mash well into the bread, breaking it into small bits [use fingers to break apart bread if fork technique is ineffective, as it was for me].
3. Add the bread bits to the simmering soup and stir over low heat for approximately 5 minutes, until fully incorporated and soup has thickened.
4. Add salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste and serve hot, topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and remaining 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil.