Much of Italian cuisine stems from the following principle: waste nothing. Due to my aforementioned scallop debacle, I had purchased a baguette to sop up the excess juice, and I hadn’t a clue of what to do with the remaining bread. Though delicious, baguette is not part of my regular grocery rotation. So I opted to think like an Italian, and I put my day old baguette to work in pappa al pomodoro, or tomato and bread soup. I had never made it before, but it seemed like to perfect antidote for the stale bread and a chilly January evening. Essentially, you make a marinara sauce with canned tomatoes, add a little bit of chicken stock, and then thicken it with stale bread. The result was a massive success: comforting and flavorful, but not too heavy. It is an amalgamation of marinara sauce and porridge.
There are two keys to success with pappa al pomodoro. The first is to use the highest quality canned tomatoes. Overall, this is an inexpensive meal, with few ingredients. In these circumstances, it’s wise to use the best ingredients you can find. I splurged on San Marzano tomatoes, hailing from the San Marzano region of Italy, and known to be of the most flavorful tomatoes in the world. The flavor was even better than advertised, and at less than five dollars a can, they are an affordable indulgence. I chose whole peeled tomatoes, and used a potato masher to break them up a bit as they cooked, but crushed or diced tomatoes would be fine. My other recommendation is to start your dish with butter. The base of this soup is sauteed onions and garlic, like so much of Italian cuisine. Traditionally, these are sauteed in olive, but I opted for butter for richness and flavor. Again, this is a simple dish, and I knew that butter would make it so much more satisfying, as butter is truly one of the best additions to tomato sauce.
The tomatoes (buttery tomatoes no less) are truly the star of this dish. I used about two cups of the cubed bread to thicken the soup, but next time I would use one and a half cups at the most. It was thick and satisfying, but I was much more interested in the tomatoes than the bread. You could play around with the amount, starting with less, and adding more if you need it. Although the bread cooks for about 10 minutes after it is added, you will get an idea of how thick it will be once it stirred in. A mini baguette, a large crusty role, or even a few slices of good quality bread would get the job done. I left all the crust on to make my life easier, but you could remove it if you want a more uniform soup. I added a pinch of crushed red pepper, a splash of white wine, and a bay leaf to my soup, but these additions are optional. I garnished with basil, but you could add as much as you like since basil and tomatoes are such good friends. Oregano or thyme are other possibilities, but I would skip it to keep the flavor clean and simple, allowing for the tomatoes to be the focus of the flavor profile.
Pappa al Pomodoro (a Psycho original recipe. Inspiration gathered from across the internet.)
Makes 2 jumbo, main course servings
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 28 oz. can whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes
- 2 1/2 cups reduced sodium chicken stock
- 1-2 cups of cubed good quality bread
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch crushed red pepper (optional)
- 1/2 cup white wine (optional)
- 1 dried bay leaf (optional)
- Parmesan cheese and basil for garnish
- Preheat a soup pot or large sauce pot over medium heat. Saute onion in butter, seasoned with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper, for about 10 minutes, until translucent and softened. Add garlic, and saute for one more minute.
- Add white wine, if using, and stir so that it it is almost completely evaporated.
- Add the canned tomatoes with their juice, the chicken stock, and bay leaf. Increase the heat to bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Break the tomatoes apart with a wooden spoon, or with a potato masher.
- Simmer the soup for about 10-15 minutes, and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed.
- Add the bread, starting with about one cup, adding more if you want your soup thicker. Simmer for about 10 more minutes, allowing the bread to break down.
- Garnish with basil and parmesan cheese, and enjoy.
January 20, 2015