Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pappa col Pomodoro

For the first recipe from la scuola di cucina di Lella, here is the story and recipe behind pappa col pomodoro.

Pappa col pomodoro is a traditional Tuscan tomato and bread soup. It's origins are very poor as it is made with stale bread. Tuscan families would make bread once a week, and then at the end of the week, when the leftover bread was stale, instead of throwing it away, they would stretch it even farther by using it to make soup. The result is many tasty and hearty Tuscan soups which rely heavily on stale bread, including this one.

Another important thing about this soup is where it is from. All Italian food is very regional. There are 21 different regions in Italy, all of them with their own type of cuisine. There are definitely some similarities between dishes from some regions, and there are some things that you can find all throughout Italy, but Italian food is much more diverse than just spaghetti and lasagna. As I said, this is a traditional Tuscan soup. More than just being Tuscan, pappa col pomodoro is very specific to the area right around Siena and Florence.

This is a very easy soup to make with not too many ingredients, but it is very delicious.

Here's what you will need:
Extra virgin olive oil
Whole garlic cloves
A couple of chili peppers, crushed
Stale bread (the older, the better)

A note on some of the ingredients-
The bread should be from a very simple, country style, hearty loaf. If you only have fresh bread and want to make this soup, you can dry out the bread in the oven for a few minutes- not enough to toast it, but just enough to dry it out.
In the summer when you can find really nice flavorful tomatoes, use fresh, but in the winter, canned tomatoes are better than fresh ones without flavor.
Also in the summer, the basil is going to be more aromatic and flavorful, so you won't need to use as much.
You can use whatever kind of stock you like, vegetable or chicken. In a pinch, you could even use water, but a good stock will make this soup better.

Here's how to make it:
- Start with a good amount of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot. It should be at least 2 tablespoons of oil per person.
- Add one or two whole cloves of garlic per person (depending on how much you like garlic), and the crushed chili flakes. The heat on this pot should be very low, you don't want any color on the garlic, it should stay white throughout the cooking process.
- After a couple of minutes when you can start to smell the garlic, add a couple of handfulls of fresh basil.
- Add the bread and toss in the hot oil to evenly coat it. There should be enough bread to soak up all of the oil.
- Add the tomatoes and mix well to coat the bread.
- Fill the pot with enough stock to cover all the tomatoes and bread. The stock should be warm, so it doesn't stop the cooking process. It will depend how much stock you will need on how stale the bread is. Really stale bread is going to absorb more of the liquid, so keep an eye on this and don't let it get dried out.
- Cover the soup and simmer for at least an hour. Stir occasionally and add more stock if necessary.
- When the soup is done cooking, you can serve it as is, or pass it through a food mill for a smoother texture. According to Lella, it is very important that you do not use an electric blender, but do this step by hand with a food mill. This is meant to be a hearty soup and it should not be pureed.
- Serve the soup with a thread of extra virgin olive oil on top.

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