Pappa al Pomodoro is a rustic tomato and bread dish that’s half-way between a soup and a porridge. It’s best made with vermillion hued, plump skinned tomatoes, birthed under the Tuscan sun, but it’s also the kind of soul warming meal you crave after trudging home from work on a frigid winter day. A paradox, I know, but one that can be solved with the right ingredients.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the secret to a good Pappa al Pomodoro is in the quality of the tomatoes and the bread. While you’d be hard pressed to find much in the way of sun ripened tomatoes in January, a good can of Italian tomatoes and a little honey will get you a convincing rendition of this classic. A forgery to be sure, but one that is good enough in the dead of winter, when your spirit yearns for a little sunshine.
The provenance of this dish is undisputedly Tuscan, but the ingredients themselves hail from Peru, Western Asia and Southern Asia, making it an unlikely fore bearer of Asian-Latin fusion cuisine. Puzzled?… Tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family that developed in South America and were brought to Europe by the Spanish. The wheat in bread was first cultivated by the Mesopotamians over 11,000 years ago, and basil is a member of the mint family that came from the tropics of Asia.
For my version, I like to brown the bread in olive oil first, which really brings out the flavour of the bread and gives the soup a nice toasty undertone. The olive oil that soaks into the golden kernels of bread imparts a velvety quality to this Pappa al Pomodoro that mellows out any sharp tannins in the tomatoes. Bathing the toasted bread in the vegetable stock before adding it into the finished soup, keeps the Pappa al Pomodoro from getting too runny or too gloopy, while allowing all the components to intermingle into a bowlful of joy.
Emboldened by the loss of a few pounds over the holidays (presumably due to the cold, not for lack of gluttony), I drizzled some olive oil over this at the end, which adds just the right amount of fresh green flavours, along with some hand torn basil.
Pappa al Pomodoro
1/2 loaf of dense day old bread torn into pieces (about 9 ounces)
3 C good quality vegetable broth
3 cloves garlic minced
1 medium onion roughly chopped
28 oz. can of San Marzano whole stewed tomatoes
salt and honey to taste
Put the bread in a food processor and pulse to break it up into small pieces (bigger than bread crumbs, but smaller than croutons). Add a few glugs of olive oil to a pot over medium heat and toast the bread until it just starts to take on a golden color. Add the vegetable stock, cover with a lid, and let it sit while you make the rest of the soup.
Put the garlic in the food processor and process until finely minced. Add the onions and pulse until minced (but not pureed). Heat a frying pan over medium low heat until hot and add a splash of olive oil. Add the garlic and onions and sauté until the onions are very soft.
While the onions are softening, put the tomatoes with any liquid in the food processor and pulse a few times to break up the pieces (you still want some chunks). Add the tomatoes to the pan with the onions and simmer on medium low heat for 20 minutes.
Add the tomatoes to the bread, heat the Pappa al Pomodoro through, salt and honey to taste, and serve with hand torn basil and a drizzle of olive oil on top.