Pappa al Pomodoro is a tomato soup that is thickened with bread; a true Tuscan peasant food – the kind of dishes I love to cook. It’s also one of those dishes that is perfect for this time of year, when tomatoes are still hanging on their vines, but tomato salads just aren’t cutting it anymore and we’re craving something a little more substantial and a little more comforting. Technically, we’re still in the summer season but you can definitely feel fall nipping at our heels – or our ears for that matter. Evenings are cool, mornings are cooler, winds are picking up and the days are becoming shorter and shorter. I know how difficult it can be to let the dog days of summer go – trust me, I know! But if you’re from a climate that experiences all four seasons, could you imagine not experiencing it? Could you fathom not witnessing the changing of the leaves in fall, or the thrill of waking up to a blanket of white snow on Christmas morning? How about the liberating feeling that spring brings when wearing a t-shirt or a pair of sandals for the first time, after a long winter of socks and sweaters and spending hot summer nights enjoying a glass of wine on the deck with good company. This is the beauty of living in the seasons.
Another beautiful thing about living in the seasons is eating in the seasons. Just a few months ago, I was pining for spring and summer vegetables and had it up to here – I’m cutting my hand through the air, just above my head – with squash, broccoli and cauliflower. I now salivate over recipes that contain these ingredients and can’t wait to recreate them in my kitchen. But that’s how cooking and eating seasonally goes. You gorge yourself with what’s available at that time and cook it every which way possible. Suddenly, you become totally sick of it because you’ve been eating it two or three times a week for three months straight and voilà – another season has finally come upon us and it’s time for something new!
Pappa, which means something soft or mushy, especially soft or mushy food, and pomodoro, which are tomatoes (essentially, mushy tomatoes) was not only a way for Tuscan peasants to use up stale bread, but it was often prepared because it was cheap, but hearty. Scraps of vegetables and unsightly tomatoes were cooked in water and the entire pot of soup was thickened with stale bread to give it more substance – a dish of true poverty. Today, it is a dish that can be found in any Italian cookbook and raved about by aficionados of Italian cuisine. It has also become more luxurious and definitely more rich than when the peasants made it. Additions of chicken stock instead of water, bacon fat instead of olive oil and cheese instead of pangrattato (heavily seasoned breadcrumbs that were sprinkled on food in lieu of cheese for extra flavour) are all valuable ingredients that peasants could not afford to add to simple, non-celebratory meals. However you decide to enjoy this soup it is a meal – and this soup does eat like a meal – that is perfect for this time of year. It’s a great way to use up those tomatoes that have been ripening on your counter, to taste the last breath of summer and feel the comfort and warmth of the fall season ahead.
In honor of my 50th post, Sweet Chili Sauce, I would like to thank my readers and welcome new readers with a special giveaway. Please stay tuned over the next week for details on this giveaway and a peak at the prize. Your first hint: Patience is a virtue and I promise there is a “silver” lining to those who wait.
Pappa al Pomodoro with Roasted Tomatoes and Asiago
Roasting the tomatoes and accompanying vegetables is not necessary, but it does add a deeper more robust flavour to the soup. If you don’t have the time then you may skip this step. Simply sweat the onions in olive oil, add the carrots and cook for 5 minutes and then add the tomatoes. The rest of the recipe remains the same.
If you do not have a food mill you can use an immersion or stick blender or a regular blender. I like using the food mill as it provides a coarser texture and ultimately, a chunkier soup.
I have also included a variation to this soup at the end of this recipe for a Cream of Tomato soup that is also very, very good!
Adapted from “Pappa al Pomodoro,” Barefood Contessa: Back to Basics, by Ina Garten
2 onions, quartered
2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
5 or 6 large tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup olive oil
3 slices bacon or pancetta, chopped (optional)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry red wine
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup packed, chopped fresh basil leaves
2 cups day-old ciabatta bread, or any country-style bread (no sandwich bread please), crusts removed and cubed
1/3 cup grated Asiago cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees farenheit. On a large baking sheet, spread out the vegetables in a single layer and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Broil on high for 10 minutes, flip the vegetables and continue to broil for another 5 to 7 minutes. Once you have gained some char on the vegetables, roast for another 10 minutes on 400 degrees until they have softened considerably.
In a large, heavy bottom pot render the bacon or pancetta until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and set aside for later. Add the minced garlic to the bacon fat and cook until fragrant (if you decide to omit the bacon, simply cook the garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil). The vegetables, along with any accumulated juices are added next, followed by the red wine, chicken stock and basil. Stir thoroughly to combine and simmer over medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes.
Set up a food mill over another pot and begin ladelling the soup into the device, puréeing the soup in batches. Conversely, you can use an immersion blender or traditional blender. Once all of the soup is puréed, add in the cubed bread and simmer for 10 minutes. Break up any chunks of bread with a whisk. Remove from heat and add in the grated Asiago. Serve hot, topped with the crisped bacon and a sprinkling of a little more Asiago.
Variation: Cream of Tomato Soup
To make the cream of tomato soup do not roast the vegetables. Omit the bacon and sweat onions in 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add in the carrots, cook for 5 minutes then add the tomatoes. Cook the vegetables together for 10 minutes before adding the stock and basil. Simmer over medium heat for 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Purée, as instructed above, but instead of adding the bread and Asiago, stir in 3/4 cup of heavy cream. Bring to a simmer and serve while hot.