Pappa al Pomodoro
Marlena Spieler is one of my favorite food writers. Her stories and recipes appear in the SF Chronicle from time to time. Her recipes are always imaginative, reliable and not dumbed down. Her stories are entertaining, often coming from Europe, most often from Italy.
Since it’s tomato season and I was working on my third flat of tomatoes – this one Early Girls – I dug into my “to cook” files and pulled out this story that I clipped two years ago, but hadn’t got around to trying. She spun a yarn of the bakers of Napoli, their fabulous breads and tomatoes.
“Slice up a tomato or two, lay them on a slab of sourdough bread, douse with olive oil and various aromatics. This is lunch to get you through a summer, or to take to picnics, to eat alone, or to prepare for 100.”
Being a soup guy, rather than a sandwich guy, I was more interested in her simple bread and tomato soup creation.
“I’ve also been making pappa pomodoro, a savory tomato soup thickened with chunks of flavorful, stale bread that one can actually prepare with canned tomatoes and it’s surprisingly good. But you can’t prepare it with bad bread; you’ve got to have the good stuff.”
Well, I had my good Early Girl tomatoes from Mariquita Farm and good Acme bread, herbs and plenty of garlic… all set.
Since I had great tomatoes, I used 4 cups of tomatoes rather than add the juice. I had some tomato water as well, so I used a cup of that and 3 cups chicken stock. Rather than the ubiquitous basil, I used arugula – I like its spice – to finish the soup.
Other tomato bread soups I’ve made are thick and rich – not a bad thing – but this is tasty and light, thanks to the added broth.
Another reason to like this soup is that the tomatoes are not processed, neither before nor after cooking. The texture of the tomatoes is a perfect accompaniment to the bread chunks. And yet the soup is so light and flavorful, its good anytime: as a soup course at dinner, or as a lunch – maybe with some cooked shrimp thrown in. The last cup, I had for breakfast, heated and poured over good buttered toast. Yum, yum and yum.
Here’s Marlena Spieler’s recipe with my [notes]:
Pappa al Pomodoro with Basil or Arugula
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced + 2 whole cloves garlic
3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + more for drizzling
About 3 cups chopped fresh ripe flavorful tomatoes [just under 3 pounds = 4 cups]
1 cup dry white wine (or substitute water)
1 quart vegetable or chicken broth [used 1C tomato water, 3C chicken stock]
6 to 8 slices (about 1/2 loaf) sour country-style
bread, cut into bite-size chunks
1 cup tomato juice; if your tomatoes are amazing, omit and add another cup of tomatoes
Chopped fresh basil or arugula [1C arugula]
Instructions: Lightly saute the onion and sliced garlic in the 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil until softened, then add the tomatoes [be patient, cook onions until caramelized, otherwise the onions are crunchy]. Raise the heat to medium or medium-high, letting the tomatoes cook into a saucelike consistency.
Pour in the wine and raise the heat to high, letting the alcohol burn off and the liquid reduce, then lower heat again and add the broth and bread. Bring to simmer and ook over a low heat for a few minutes while the bread falls apart and thickens the soup. Add the tomato juice (if using).
Meanwhile, crush the whole cloves of garlic with a pinch of sea salt using either a mortar and pestle or a knife on a cutting board. [Add 2t salt plus ground pepper.]
Just before serving, stir the crushed garlic into the soup, and add the basil or arugula, then ladle the soup into bowls, with a drizzle of olive oil.