Pappa al Pomodoro, aka Amazing Italian Tomato Soup

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It’s been a rainy few days in San Diego, which doesn’t happen too often. I won’t complain, though — the variety is nice, actually — and regardless, it’s the perfect weather for a nice, warm bowl of soup, which I took advantage of with this awesome pappa al pomodoro. This is a classic Italian recipe — Tuscan to be exact — and was traditionally a way to get rid of that stale bread Italians tend to have hanging around. As you can expect from a classic Italian dish, the flavors are simple but delicious. You’ve got ripe tomatoes (in this case canned San Marzano), onion, carrot, garlic, fennel, basil and red wine, all mixed in with cubes of bread that break down and thicken it up a bit. This version by Barefoot Contessa incorporates a topping that absolutely nailed it for me — toasted bread (basically fresh croutons), pancetta and basil leaves baked in a hot oven and then sprinkled on top. It’s a great crunch with salt from the pancetta and the crispy basil leaves. Awesome.

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I made this with some of the homemade chicken stock I made the other day, which really made a big difference. It’s so nice to be able to control the salt, and I barely had to add any to this! It was so warm and hearty, and the perfect thing for a rainy night. Serve with a salad or a baguette.

TW’s Tips

  • I splurged on San Marzano tomatoes instead of the regular or store brand. I have to say, it was awesome and much sweeter than you would get from the run-of-the-mill brand.
  • I highly recommend pancetta for the topping — bacon as a replacement just won’t cut it.
  • Barefoot Contessa calls for whisking this before serving — personally, I wasn’t a big fan, particularly of the chunks of carrot. So, I just stuck it in the food processor and smoothed it out a bit. Perfect.
  • This makes a lot — as usual, I froze some, which will definitely take me through at least six more servings.

Pappa al Pomodoro

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
  • 1 cup medium-diced carrots, unpeeled (3 carrots)
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and medium-diced (1 1/2 cups)
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes, crusts removed
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans good Italian plum tomatoes
  • 4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

For the topping:

  • 3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes
  • 2 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, chopped
  • 24 to 30 whole fresh basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil, plus more for serving
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until tender. Add the ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes. Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process just until coarsely chopped. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

For the topping, place the ciabatta cubes, pancetta, and basil on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, until all the ingredients are crisp. The basil leaves will turn dark and crisp, which is perfectly fine. Reheat the soup, if necessary, beat with a wire whisk until the bread is broken up. Stir in the Parmesan and taste for seasoning. Serve hot sprinkled with the topping and drizzled with additional olive oil.

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