If I offered you a bowl of tomatoes and soggy bread, would you be interested?
Pappa al Pomodoro is originally from Tuscany and is probably one of the simplest and most delicious ‘soups’ you can make. Basically just a mush of tomatoes and bread, it stretches the definition of what is normally considered a soup. Typical of Italian cuisine, it involves very few ingredients, but scales the culinary heights by relying on the excellence of these humble ingredients.
For the bread I used some dried homemade flatbread torn into chunks. The original recipe called for 12 oz but I liked the results with less bread. As it is still winter in these parts I used some cans of tomatoes imported from Italy. Ideally you would use ripe tomatoes fresh from the vine. I can confirm though, that the use of canned Italian tomatoes is acceptable and produces very good results. I’ve parted from the original recipe by adding the balsamic, cayenne pepper and sugar. I found they helped bring everything together.
Serve with a dollop of ricotta mixed with lemon zest, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and small basil leaves.
When you taste it, it may as well be August.
Pappa al Pomodoro
based on a recipe by Mario Batali
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 lbs fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
7 oz day-old rustic Italian bread, roughly chopped
2 cups water
1 cup fresh basil leaves + extra for garnish
1 T balsamic vinegar
freshly ground black pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
sugar (if necessary)
makes 4 servings
In a large pot heat the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent. Add chopped tomatoes and their juices and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook until the tomatoes begin to soften and break down, about 5 minutes.
Using a spoon, add the stale bread chunks and water. Continue simmering until all the bread has absorbed as much liquid as possible, yielding a baby food-like consistency. Stir in the basil leaves and balsamic vinegar. Season, to taste, with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and sugar (depending on the sweetness of the tomatoes). Let the soup continue simmering for 10 more minutes, then serve immediately in warmed soup bowls. Garnish with some ricotta cheese and lemon zest, or simply some grated parmigiano-reggiano, and some more basil leaves.