I spent a week or so in Tuscany a few years back, traveling for school, and tried some of the local fare; Pappardelle al cinghiale (Wild Boar Ragu pasta, which I had to try a couple of times because it was soooooo good), Panzanella (Bread Salad, see J’s version – I love it more than the Italian made I had), and healthy doses of the digestivo Limoncino (the Northern Italian version of Limoncello) and Pappa al pomodoro.
Though, to be honest, I wasn’t as thrilled with the Pappa al pomodoro as I thought I was supposed to be. Everywhere is apparently slightly different (as family styles and recipes are malleable) so I shouldn’t have given up but the opportunity did not really offer itself again. I returned, slightly sad that such a signature dish left me wanting. I think what disappointed me was likely the restaurant’s lack of time taken for this dish – though it doesn’t take a lot of time, time is still the essence of the tomato flavor (this is just a guess, the tomato soup tasted a little watery and the tomatoes unripe or uncooked a bit, but it was a desparate last minute attempt at a less than exciting establishment to make sure I had some while in Tuscany).
My best advice is to use a bit of roasted tomato to kick up the tomato flavor and make sure to simmer whatever kind of tomato you use with as little water as possible until they break down a bit, concentrating all that goodness. In the late Summer when heirloom tomatotes are gorgeous and aplenty, we buy as many as we can (every week) and use some fresh, and roast the rest sliced thick on sheet trays with Garlic/Herbs like Thyme, Marjoram, Rosemary, or Oregano/Sea Salt & fresh ground tricolored Pepper/Olive Oil until they carmelize, let cool, then throw into freezer bags for just this sort of thing – adds tomato punch to any dish – soups and stews, pasta dishes, dips, etc.
I’ve also made this with a squeeze of anchovy and lemon (I think whoever came up with smashed anchovies in a tube is a genius! but you can also just smash one or two of your own) and Winter herb oil (dried herbs like Thyme, Rosemary, or Sage simmered in oil, strained then use the oil in the soup). I would not judge you if you added chunks of oil simmered Red and Green Bell Pepper and/or Onion, as well, or a healthy dose of Red Wine or a splash of Red Wine Vinegar near the end and a handful of Parm/Reg cheese. Instead of adding water, you can also up the nutrition by using Stock of any kind, too. Can also be served with a sexy cheese and cured olives (Josh really likes the wrinkly Black olives but mixed olives work great, too – or any of your favorites).
Pappa al Pomodoro (Tomato Bread Soup)
- 3 Large cloves of Garlic, peeled and smashed with the flat of the knife
- 1 lb fresh Tomatoes, (roasted in oven for 15-20 min at 350 w/ Sea Salt/Pepper/drizzle of Olive Oil, if using Summer frozen – chop roughly and treat the same), or a 24 oz can of Diced Fire-Roasted Tomatoes
- 24 oz of Water or Stock
- 1/2 cup of Olive Oil
- 24 oz can of Crushed Tomatoes (with Basil – sure!)
- Bunch of fresh Basil, torn a bit to let the oils out, hold back a few leaves for the end
- About a pound of good quality stale Bread cut or torn into big bite sized pieces(half of our classic Panem Domus is a great match here- if not stale ‘enough’, cut or tear into chunks and bake or toast a bit to dry out)
The beauty of this soup is the marrying of flavors.
* To start this, I recommend a Tablespoon of the Olive Oil in a Soup/Saucepan over Medium heat. Add smashed Garlic cloves and bring to a slow sizzle (do not let them brown but move around until fragrant).
* Then add can of Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, if using (if not, hold off on the fresh or frozen fresh Roasted -or fresh frozen-Tomatoes, and move to next Step). Let cook in saucepan until thickly bubbly, stirring occasionally so as not to stick to bottom of pot (about 5 minutes).
* Add Crushed Tomatoes (if not using can Fire-Roasted, treat as above, letting cook in Olive Oil with Garlic for 5 minutes) and 24 oz of chosen broth liquid (I just refill the can), and let simmer for 10-15 minutes.
* Season with Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper.
* Add Bread chunks and torn Basil and let simmer another 5-10 minutes until preferred consistency (if I need to loosen it a bit, as I like it, this is the time I use a little Red Wine or Red Wine Vinegar, cooking after adding just a minute or two to reduce the alcohol/sharpness and bring to temperature)
* Remove from heat and divide into serving bowls – adding a Tablespoon of Olive Oil to each bowl, and sprinkling with Flaky Sea Salt/freshly ground Black Pepper to taste, and the remaining torn Basil.