Dylan spent much of November in San Francisco doing an “away rotation”, which is essentially when 4th year medical students offer their labor for free in the hopes that a residency program will take a shine to them and offer them a position for the following year. Meanwhile, Maddie and I were left behind to fend for ourselves at home and although I was initially nervous (an extreme understatement) to spend a month on my own with an infant (not to mention work, running the house, etc…), it ended up that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had imagined. As far as the day-to-day stuff, I managed to not only feed us and keep us clean, but I dare say that things ran downright smoothly around here.
What was far harder was the simple lack of adult company, for as wonderful as my little Madeleine is, a month of cooing and baby talk could turn anyone’s brain to complete mush. I quickly realized that making sure to get out and socialize was key for my sanity. What better way to turn lemons into lemonade than to host a girls’ night in Dylan’s absence? Maddie and I invited a handful of girlfriends over for a potluck one Friday night and finding myself with an aging loaf of bread, I decided to dig into my soggy bread archives to come up with something warm and comforting for the autumn evening.
I make no secret of the fact that I love recipes that revolve around soggy, gooey day old bread. But the problem with the pappa al pomodoro recipes I’ve made before is that they’re really, really great with terrific summer tomatoes, but not so hot with the bland flavorless ones that we ordinarily find during the rest of the year. Which is why I was curious about this recipe. I first noticed it here on Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn, but apparently it first came from Serious Eats, where they got it from Jamie Oliver’s website. What a lineage! And you know what? Considering you could make it on the very coldest and bleakest of winter days using tomatoes found in your ordinary supemarket, it’s pretty darn good. The combination of cherry tomatoes, canned tomatoes, basil, garlic, and of course, stale bread, turns into a little bit of heaven given a short while on the stovetop. While I’m holding onto fresh tomato-based pappa al pomodoro recipes to take advantage of summer’s bounty, this is one will happily tide me over in the interim.
Pappa al pomodoro (serves 4-6)
1 pound cherry tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
a large bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked, stalks finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
28 ounces canned tomatoes
2 large handfuls of stale good-quality bread, torn into chunks
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Prick the cherry tomatoes and combine them in a mixing bowl with one sliced clove of garlic, a good drizzle of olive oil, and 5 or 5 basil leaves. Spread them on a roasting tray and roast for about 20 minutes, until collapsed and slightly shrunken.
2. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the basil stalks and the remaining garlic, cooking until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes with their juice, and an additional half can full of water. Use a wooden spoon or kitchen scissors to break up the tomatoes, while bringing to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Add the torn-up bread pieces to the pan, along with the rest of the basil, torn. (Reserve a few basil leaves for garnish, as I neglected to do!). When the roasted tomatoes are done, scrape them into the soup pot with all their juices and stickiness. Stir into the soup and check for consistency: it will be rather thick and porridgy.
4. Divide between bowls and float some additional olive oil on top. Top with more basil and serve.