Pappa al Pomodoro: Tuscan Bread and Tomato Soup
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you likely have noticed my affection for stale bread. I gleefully hoard all of those old baguette butts in the freezer to make recipes like Panzanella, Ham and Zucchini Strata, and of course poultry stuffing. I see no reason to dispose of perfectly good bread when it can be repurposed in so many different ways. I’m all about the reuse and recycle….it’s just ‘reduce’ that I struggle with…..
Another great way to use up stale bread that’s been sitting around for a few days is to make soup. Soup, you ask? Oh yes, Tuscan bread soup, aka Pappa al Pomodoro. This is Italian home comfort cooking at it’s best – peasant food with simple flavors that nourish the body and soul. And leftovers? Even better. So before you throw out that crusy old bread loaf that fell behind the toaster oven and was forgotten about for a couple of days, why not consider making a hearty soup to warm the body on a cold fall day.
Pappa al Pomodoro
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion (about 1 cup chopped)
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 28oz can of whole stewed tomatoes
- 1/3 loaf of stale Italian bread (about 4.5 cups cubed)
- 4 cups chicken stock *
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- handful fresh basil leaves
Tuck the bread in the oven to dry. It may get slightly brown, which is fine, but more than anything we just want it to dry out into crusty chunks of crouton. This should take 15 – 20 minutes, but keep an eye on it and check it after 10 minutes or so to give it a toss.
Meanwhile, in a large heavy bottomed pot heat the olive oil over a gentle medium-low heat and begin to sautee the onions and garlic. The key here is to let them cook down slowly and encourage all of that natural sweetness and flavor to come out. The one thing that you have to be sure of is that the onion does not brown, and definitely does not burn.
When the onions are fully translucent it’s time to add the tomatoes. Okay, so let’s talk about the ‘maters. You can buy crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and whole tomatoes. I like whole tomatoes for this soup, although you can use diced tomatoes if you must…but that’s just not as much fun.
Here’s the thing, diced tomatoes, even after you’ve stewed them for a half hour or so, still look and feel like diced tomatoes. With the whole tomatoes you get right in there and crush it with your hands. You get a better tomato taste and a delightful rustic look – which makes you feel like you’re on the right path for peasant food. Plus, it’s insanely satisfying in a mud-puddle kind of way to smush and mash those juicy canned tomatoes in the palm of your hand and let the juices seep between your fingers in a sludgy mess of tomato glory. I also feel (‘feel’ because I have no empiric evidence to support this) that the hand-crushed tomatoes cook down better and have a more tomatoey taste.
Add in the balsamic vinegar and continue to cook this over medium low heat for 15 – 20 minutes.
Throw in the dry cubed bread (and crumbs!) and pour in the chicken stock. Let this continue to cook together for another 10 minutes. If the soup looks too thick (it should be rather thick and somewhat stew like) you can consider adding a bit of water or stock until you have a consistency that you’re happy with.
Chiffonade (thinly slice) the basil…
…and add it to the soup.
Let the basil cook in the soup for an additional 5 minutes or so before serving.
Garnish with some more fresh basil if you have any left.
We ate this soup for a warming fall dinner, and then again the next day for a warming fall lunch….and on the third day I wished that I had more because I was craving it for breakfast. Because that’s just who I am.
It may not be pretty, but I challenge you not to finish off your bowl and go for more. In fact, I’ll bet you FIVE DOLLARS that you will. Aren’t I just the big spender. Hey, we’re poor choosy beggars, remember……