The latest contribution to the soggy bread archives, I had imagined this traditional Tuscan dish from the wonderful Zuni Cafe Cookbook would be pretty good, but that would be a gross understatement. It was downright delicious and simple as can be. Here’s just how good it was:
1) We had a friend visiting for the evening. She had already had dinner but thought she’d try a small bowl. A few minutes later, she was up for seconds.
2) Said friend asked if I would post the recipe on Superspark and though I said I would, it was less than 24 hours later that she called asking where it was. Apparently she had plans to make it that very night…
3) We gobbled down the entire first batch so fast that I didn’t manage to get a good photo to post.
But you know what? It didn’t matter, I was more than happy to make it again and use more of the huge crop of tomatoes that has now ripened in our “garden”. The taste of homegrown tomatoes really adds something to this dish, but even if you have to buy yours at the supermarket, pappa al pomodoro is so delicious and quick that it’s worth making anyway.
As an aside, I’ll admit that I’m not entirely sure that my pappa al pomodoro turned out as it is supposed to. From what I’ve read, it’s supposed to be a sort of bread and tomato soup, but both times I’ve made it, while it has been moist, to call it soup would be a stretch. If you want it soupier, add less bread (I’ve used about 2/3 of a big round loaf both times) or you can soak the bread chunks in broth for an hour first which means that they’ll soak of less of the tomato mixture. Either way, this dish is a serious winner.
About 2 pounds very ripe, flavorful tomatoes
About ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
A leafy branch of fresh basil
A pinch or two of sugar
About ¼ pound day-old, chewy, country-style bread, with most of the crust removed
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Score a large “X” on the underside of half of the tomatoes, just breaking the skin. Gently ease them, one at a time, into the boiling water. Within 15 or so seconds, the skin should begin to curl back in sheets from the center of the “X.” When this occurs, remove the tomatoes from the water with a slotted spoon, and place them on a cutting board. Peel them; the skin should slip away easily. Trim them, as well as the unpeeled tomatoes, of any blemishes or under-ripe areas; core them; and coarsely chop them into ¼-inch bits, taking care not to lose any juice. Scoop the tomatoes and their juices into a bowl, and set it aside.
2. Pour about ¼ cup of the olive oil into a large saucepan or Dutch oven over low heat. When the oil is warm, add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook gently over low heat for 10 or so minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent. Stir in the garlic. Cook for a few minutes more, and then add the tomatoes and their juices, along with another glug of oil. Raise the heat, and bring the mixture to a simmer.
3. Pick the leaves from the sprig of basil, set them aside, and add the stem to the tomato mixture. Cook the mixture only long enough for the tomato to melt and break down a bit, about 5-10 minutes, stopping the cooking when the tomato mixture takes on the characteristic red-orange color of cooked tomatoes. Taste for salt and sugar; you’ll probably need to add quite a bit of the former and might want a pinch or two of the latter, to counter acidity.
4. Remove and discard the basil stem. Using kitchen shears, snip the basil leaves into rough slivers, and add them to the pot. Tear the bread into the size of large croutons, and add them as well, stirring to wet and submerge the chunks. Cover the pan, remove it from the heat, and let it sit for 15 or so minutes in a warm place, so that the bread can soften and absorb the liquid.
5. When you’re ready to serve the pappa, stir it roughly to break up the bread, and taste it again for salt and sweetness. Adjust as necessary, stirring in another glug of olive oil to enrich the finished dish. Serve warm, with freshly ground black pepper. (It’s equally great the next day as leftovers and if you’re a cheese lover, by all means, stir in some mozzarella or parmesan at the end!)