Pappa al Pomodoro
It is a simple Italian tomato soup, a rustic one at that. Like so many great dishes, its origins trace back to a humble peasant food. It is a way to stretch the usefulness of some stale, crusty bread by combining it with a few simple ingredients. In fact, it is basically only five ingredients: fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil, and a loaf stale bread.
But the modesty of the ingredients is deceptive. Anything but the sincerest of sun ripened tomatoes brought forth for flavor, not convenience, will not suffice. It is not about adding more, or taking away, or modifying, or endowing it with a shelf life far in excess of any living creature, except Keith Richards.
Read my thoughts on this soup in my Psychology Today article.
Getting ready to concassé….
• 3 kg fresh heirloom tomatoes, concassé with juices reserved.
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 350 g (approximately one large) onion, finely diced
• 50 g garlic, finely chopped
• 10 g basil leaves, divided
• 850 g (approximately one loaf) stale ciabatta or other bread, sliced thin
• 2 teaspoons salt (or grapefruit citrus salt recommended)
• 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
You do not have to concassé the tomatoes, you may simply crush them. However, the final soup will lack that unique deep, rich tomato flavor combined with an ethereal softness. The concassé de tomates is a highly recommended step.
To concassé the tomatoes, fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Have an ice bath at the ready. Using a paring knife, score the bottom of each tomato with the small “X”, lightly piercing the skin. Working in small batches, place the tomatoes in the boiling water for 30 to 45 seconds. Remove and place in the ice bath to arrest the cooking process. The skins should have started to peel back at the point where you made the “X”. The skin should easily peel back to the where the stem attached to the fruit. You may discard the skins, or save for another use.
Place a fine mesh sieve in a large bowl. Have another container at the ready. Where you made the original incision, peel the tomato segments back, working to remove the seeds. You won’t be able to get every single seed, but do your best to remove the majority. The more seeds removed, the better the soup. Roughly chop the tomato segments, then place the peeled, seeded, and chopped tomato aside. Reserve the juice you have collected; you should have roughly 2 L. Discard the seeds.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onion, season with 1 teaspoon of salt, and cook until softened, approximately six minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another two minutes. Add the tomatoes and the reserved liquid. Bring up to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Add half the basil leaves. Cook for another 20 minutes. Add the bread and continue to cook for another 10 minutes. Add the remaining salt and the pepper. Season to taste as needed with further salt and pepper.
Depending on the consistency you desire, you may or may not want to further process the soup. This is traditionally a rustic soup and part of the pleasure are the bits of warm, soft bread and the bursts of tomato; so I recommend you do not purée it into a homogeneous paste. If you have some large chunks, or want it slightly smoother then in small batches in a food processor or using an immersion blender lightly blend the soup. Finally, add the remaining basil leaves.
To serve, place the warm soup in a bowl and top with a good quality olive oil, a little sea salt or other finishing salt, and fresh ground black pepper. A dash of fennel pollen and a small quenelle of crème fraîche makes a lovely accompaniment.