Friday, March 1, 2013

Classic Comfort, Tuscan-Style - Pantry Pappa al Pomodoro

Pappa al Pomodoro is a thick Tuscan soup that incorporates cubes of day-old crusty Bread with fresh Tomatoes resulting in an incredibly hearty and satisfying meal. The first time I tried this dish was back in 1999 while traveling with my mom Italy. We dined at a restaurant in Florence called Il Latini. With its traditional Tuscan menu including Bistecca (giant chops of grilled T-Bone Steak), delicious, towering plates of paper-thin Prosciutto, and bottles of Chianti on each table that they'd sell to you by the inch, Il Latini made an impression on me. Among the many dishes we tried, Pappa al Pomodoro stood out because of its bright and delicious tomato flavor and overall simplicity. 

Pappa al Pomodoro, Photo: NK

Now if you were to ask my mom about my impressions of our amazing Northern Italian adventure, she'd tell you I spent most of my time whining about missing my then-boyfriend and being a general pill. Looking back, I can't rightly disagree. But what my mom didn't realize was that even to this crabby teenager, our trip to Italy was a pivotal moment. The sheer magic of the country was, from then on, etched on my soul. The next leg of our trip brought us to Venice where I remember being even more awestruck. It seemed to me like a postcard come alive.  

Pappa al Pomodoro is as easy as it is delicious. Traditionally prepared with ripe, fresh Tomatoes, it comes together fairly quickly. In winter, when truly ripe Tomatoes are very hard to come by, I like to use Whole Peeled San Marzano Tomatoes in the can. This is a little trick I apply to many Fresh Tomato recipes.  

I think I was in the mood for this Soup because my family has been discussing a possible Italy trip. Very exciting - I'll keep you posted! For today's dinner, I adapted both the Mario  Batali version of this recipe and that of his former sous chef, Anne Burrell, taking my favorite aspects from each. The result was delicious, comforting, and very filling! Enjoy and Buon Appetito! 

Pantry Pappa al Pomodoro (Tuscan Tomato & Bread Soup)
Adapted from Mario Batali and Anne Burrell
Serves 4  

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 large Garlic Cloves, crushed and finely chopped
1 small Sweet Onion such as Maui or Vidalia, chopped

3/4 Lb dense, crusty 1-2 Day-Old Italian Bread (I prefer the seeded braided loaf), crusts mostly removed, thickly sliced then diced into 1 inch chunks (about 4 cups)

28 Ounce Can Whole Peeled Tomatoes, preferably San Marzano 
2 Cups Tomato Juice, divided
Photo: NK 
1 Cup Water
Pinch of Kosher Salt (optional)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper or more to taste

Pinch Crushed Red Pepper Flakes 

12 Basil Leaves, 8 cut into a chiffonade, 4 reserved for garnish (Tune in to next week's post for a great use for all that leftover Basil!)

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, optional, for serving 

Prepare and chop Bread if you have not already. Set aside.

Set a colander over a large bowl and pour in the contents of the Can of Whole Peeled Tomatoes, taking care to reserve most of the juice. Remove the bowl and set aside. 
Rinse Tomatoes under cold water and remove to a large cutting surface. The Tomatoes will release a lot of liquid once cut so take care to place them on a large surface. Roughly chop the Tomatoes and return them to the colander. Rinse again under cold water, shaking, until most of the seeds have been washed away. Allow to drain in the sink until ready to use. 

Coat a large, deep skillet with the Olive Oil and heat over medium heat until hot but not smoking.  Add the Onion and Garlic and saute, stirring frequently, for about 4 minutes until Onion begins to become translucent. Add Chopped Tomatoes and their Reserved Juice. Bring to a boil. Next add 1 Cup of Tomato Juice and 1 Cup of Water. Lower the heat to a simmer and let Tomato mixture cook for 5 to 7 minutes until the Tomatoes begin to break down. 

Next, add the Bread Chunks and the remaining Cup of Tomato Juice. Stir. Continue simmering a few minutes longer until the Bread has soaked up as much liquid as possible. Stir in the Basil Chiffonade and sprinkle on a healthy dose of Black Pepper and an optional pinch of Crushed Red Pepper. Let soup simmer an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add a pinch of Kosher Salt if desired.

To serve, transfer the Soup into warmed soup bowls. Garnish each with a Basil Leaf and a sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Roughly Cubed bread, Photo: NK 
Incorporating the Bread into the Tomato Mixture, Photo: NK

Allow the Bread to Soak Up Tomato, Photo: NK
To serve, garnish with Basil and an optional sprinkle of Parmigiano or drizzle of Olive Oil:  

Pappa al Pomodoro, Photo: NK

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