Pappa al pomodoro is the consummate comfort food. Humble, simple, rustic, and hearty, I am always amazed that five extraordinarily basic ingredients can be cooked into something spectacular. My sister lives in Florence and over the years, I've attempted to learn Italian so that I can converse with her friends and in-laws. I practice the language whenever I can and a few years ago, at my youngest son's school, I met a wonderful Florentine woman whose daughter was in his class. In my halting Italian, the first thing I asked her was her recipe for this soup. She kindly shared it, and while I've made it my own, I think of her each time I make and enjoy this dish! —em-i-lis
Test Kitchen Notes
I'm with Em: Pappa al Pomodoro has long been one of my favorite soups, especially of a winter's eve. Hers differs from mine in that she not only leaves the bread cubes whole (I've always puréed the soup when done), but toasts them in olive oil. She's generous with her San Marzano tomatoes, and her soup -- more like a stew -- is not only silken with tender bread chunks, but also greatly satisfying because of its texture. The drizzle of sage-flavored olive oil and crunch of fried sage leaves round out her subtle yet profound layers of flavor. Hint: fry lots of extra sage leaves. You'll find yourself crunching on them while the soup finishes, and you'll want to drizzle the oil with a liberal hand. —boulangere
4 plus leftovers
1/4 plus 1/3 cups
extra virgin olive oil
cloves garlic (more if you’re positively wild for garlic), minced
(at least) fresh basil, shredded
cubed or torn day-old bread (this is roughly one smallish loaf of ciabatta or French baguette)
28oz cans San Marzano or other good quality whole tomatoes in juice + 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes in juice
In a large soup pot, pour 1/4 cup of the olive oil and gently turn the pan so that the oil coats the bottom; heat over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add your garlic and sauté for a bit -- don’t let it get brown.
Add the basil and stir, then add the cubed bread plus some (at least a 1/2 teaspoon) salt and several good grinds of black pepper. When the bread is oiled and a bit toasted, add the tomatoes and their juices. Roughly mash the whole tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.
Once this has all cooked together some, taste and add more salt if it doesn't taste bright. Then, add water (about 2 and 1/2 cups) to get a thick but not super thick consistency. Simmer for a while, about 40 minutes, stirring regularly.
In the meantime, make the sage oil by heating the remaining 1/3 cups of oil in a small pan over medium-high heat. When it's quite hot, add all the sage and remove from heat. Let steep for about 20 minutes. Carefully remove the whole leaves for garnish and strain the oil through a fine mesh sieve. When the soup is ready, ladle into bowls and drizzle some of the strained oil over each. Garnish with a fried sage leaf and serve.