Tuesday, September 27, 2011

pappa al pomodoro (tuscan tomato bread soup)

Pappa al pomodoro, a hearty Tuscan bread soup, perfectly exemplifies the beautiful simplicity of Tuscan cooking. End-of-season farm-fresh, ripe tomatoes, bursting with robust flavor, fresh basil, garlic, and day-old bread are combined over bread and drizzled with good olive oil. Think of a simple fresh tomato basil sauce over pasta but with soft bread soaking up the sweet and tart tomato sauce instead of pasta. Sound heavenly?

I thought so. It is particularly a welcomed treat in September, with the cusp of fall and the tease of a San Francisco Indian summer. Imagine a warm, spoon friendly panzanella turned into soup that you will come running home to after a long chilly day at work.

The approach is fairly simple. The most involved part is blanching tomatoes for 15 seconds and peeling off the skins. I cored the tomatoes, chopped coarsely and pressed them through a sieve to remove the seeds, but you could easily skip that part.

Then saute onions in olive oil with garlic with a pinch of crushed red pepper. Add tomatoes and their juices and simmer until tomatoes begin to soften and break down. Add bread chunks and stir until all the bread has absorbed as much liquid as possible, and stir in the basil. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm.

Pappa al pomodoro (Tuscan Tomato Bread Soup)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1/3 pound day-old Italian peasant bread, roughly sliced
2 cups water
1/2 to 1 cup fresh torn basil leaves
freshly ground black pepper

Bring water to a boil over high heatin a medium saucepan. Score a large "X" at the base of each tomato (non-stem side). Ease into boiling water for 15 seconds, remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and transfer to a large bowl filled with ice water. Peel skin, core, and halve tomatoes crosswise. Working in batches, press through sieve over a large bowl to remove seeds and keep tomato pieces and juices, set aside. Discard seeds, coarsely chop tomatoes.

In a dutch oven, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over moderate heat. Add onions, cooking for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until translucent. Stir in garlic and crushed red pepper, cooking for 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes and juices and season with salt, bring to a simmer until tomatoes begin to soften and break down.

Add bread chunks and continue simmering until all the bread has absorbed as much liquid as possible, and stir in the basil. Season, to taste, with pepper. Let the soup continue simmering for 10 more minutes.  Stir in another glug of olive oil and serve warm.

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