When I got married, my wife I honeymooned in Italy, taking a slow, meandering trip through Venice, Florence, Siena, and Rome. Every aspect of that trip was a dream, and the food was no exception. One very friendly restauranteur in Florence insisted that we absolutely had to try his soup before we ordered dinner, telling us it was a traditional, Tuscan tomato and bread soup, called Pappa al Pomodoro.
My wife and I, at a loss for what to try, decided to try his recommendation, and soon enough two intricately decorated bowls were brought before us with a hearty portion of this thick, chunky, most amazing smelling soup. In the blink of an eye, we both emptied our bowls and licked them clean. Needless to say, the restauranteur was smiling ear to ear. We stopped back at the same restaurant for another bowl the next day, and I’ve done my best to recreate it here after some of my usual reading triggered the memories of this great experience.
This is a hearty, full-bodied soup that can work as either a first course or as a meal unto itself. It tastes summery, fresh, sweet, lightly acidic, and is one of my favorite ways to enjoy tomatoes. If you’re ever in Italy or the presence of someone who can cook real, true, country Italian, don’t pass up on a bowl of this soup. And talk it down to everyone around you so there’s more for you. Its that good!
- olive oil
- 1 shallot
- 1 leek
- 1 red bell
- 6-8 cloves garlic
- 1.75 cups chicken stock
- 2 lb plum tomatoes
- 28 oz San Marzano tomatoes
- 1/4-1/2 cup fresh basil
- 1/4-1/2 cup fresh oregano
- dried majoram
- ~3-4 cups of day old baguette chunks (or some other dense bread–this translates to about 5-8 inches of a loaf)
Before you get started, get all of your produce ready for action. Clean the leek and finely mince the pale green/white parts as well as the shallot, pepper, and garlic. Chop the tomatoes into smallish chunks, doing your best to reserve the juices. Some people insist on skinning and seeding the tomatoes, but to me, this is intentionally a pretty rustic soup, so I don’t regard that as an absolute necessity, but if you do, now’s the time to deal with that.
In a good sized pan (I used a Dutch oven), heat up some olive oil and sweat the shallot, leek, and red pepper for about 8 minutes or so. Do not brown the veggies–just soften them up. Then, throw in the garlic and continue this for another minute or two.
With the base vegetables softened, now is when you should pour in the chicken stock and tomato (chunked, hand-crushed from the can, or both–do what your tomato endowment allows). Stir this about and let it bubble and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring periodically.
While you wait for the first round of simmering to finish, take a trip through your herb garden and gather some basil and oregano. Dice up the leaves, and once time is up, toss them into the pot along with the dried majoram and both salt and pepper to taste. Sample things and tweak the seasoning a bit.
Now, chop up the day old bread (I always seem to have extra baguette lying around–any dense bread like that will do just fine) into big crouton-sized chunks. If you’re bread isn’t day-old hard, just cut up the chunks and toast them briefly (10-20 minutes) in the oven on 250 °F or so to firm them up a bit.
Anyways, with your bread ready to go, arm yourself with a potato masher so that you can gently mash the bread into the soup. Press it all in until every bit of bread is submerged and give things a good stir. Let this simmer for another 20-30 minutes. Check in a bit more often to stir as the soup is more prone to burning on the bottom now what with the bread. Adjust the seasoning to taste when you keep checking in on the soup.
Things should be pretty thick and chunky by now and your house should smell delicious. The soup ought to be done, so give it one last taste in case you need to adjust the seasoning one last time.
Time to dish out a bowl. A bit of high quality extra virgin olive oil drizzled around the edges of the bowl complement the soup quite nicely along with some basil leaves for garnish and a glass of nice Chianti. Enjoy!