For those of you on the East Coast (or the Midwest for that matter), I am about to state the obvious. It’s cold outside. Too cold to be outside for any longer than necessary, too cold to even remember the dog days of summer. When it is this cold, I abandon the idea of salads and grilled dinners and look for some real stick-to-your-ribs options. I immediately wax nostalgic for pappa al pomodoro, a traditional Tuscan dish. One bite of this fantastic hearty porridge-like soup brings me back to January 1992 in Florence. After a morning of touring churches with our art history professor, we stopped at a local trattoria in the Santo Spirito district of the city. We had spent three hours pounding the pavement and standing on ice cold marble floors of some of the most beautiful examples of Renaissance architecture in the world. It was quite an experience, one that I would appreciate upon reflection, but at that point I was just chilled to the bone. A blast of welcoming warmth hit us as we entered Cantinone Gallo Nero. Once seated at the long wooden benches we took the advice of our fearless leader and ordered pappa and the house red wine. Steaming crocks of the soup arrived and as we ate and talked about the morning, I could actually feel my insides warming. After lunch we were ready to head out again for some more touring. Or maybe a nap….
This recipe is from the Osteria di Passignano, an Antinori family restaurant in Chianti which offers cooking classes and wine tastings. I will be making it this weekend and hope you will give it a try as well. Make sure your ingredients are of the highest quality - that is the key to any great Italian dish.
Pappa Al Pomodoro**
1 cup of very good extra virgin olive oil
2 red onions
14 ounces fresh red tomatoes (blanched and peeled)
or San Marzano whole canned tomatoes
3 ½ ounces of stale Tuscan bread
1 bunch of basil
salt to taste
Chop the red onions finely and put in a dutch oven with oil. Cook on low heat for 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 30 minutes. Remove the crust from the bread and cut into small pieces. Add the bread to the tomatoes and cook for another 30 minutes. Season with salt and basil.
**This version is very thick. If you prefer to thin it out, add a cup of water along with the bread.