I remember clearly the first time I ate Pappa al Pomodoro. It was DELICIOUS, and at the time I had absolutely no idea what it was. I had recently arrived in Italy for the second time in my life, and my friends took me to a local pizzeria. The owner, who knew my friends by sight, brought us each a little plate of this red...mush...with olive oil drizzled on top. I took one bite, might have closed my eyes and had a Ratatouille moment, then wasted no time in devouring the rest. The flavors seemed such ordinary everyday ingredients, but each took their turn on the tongue, twirling and waltzing together in such harmony as to become a dish not quickly forgotten, and leaving the palate wanting more. One of my friends can't have gluten, and asked if any of us wanted her mush. "Really, there's gluten in this? That stinks, I'm sorry you can't try it...I'll TAKE IT." Actually, the rest of us probably split it, I don't really remember.
After this first encounter, I needed to know what that magical substance was. What is it called? What are the ingredients? How do you make it? I'll save you all my searching and wondering: Pappa al pomodoro has a base of bread, tomatoes, and broth, and where there are tomatoes there is usually basil, and round it out with some garlic and good extra virgin olive oil. That's it! And I bet, you probably have all or most of those ingredients on hand.
Pappa al Pomodoro is a traditional Tuscan "poor" dish, and once I knew what it was, saw it everywhere on restaurant menus around Florence. It's normally eaten as a primo piatto, or first course, but I like to make it the MAIN course. At home, of course, away from the overly inquisitive eyes of the Italians. The genius of it is, it uses stale bread, reducing food waste. Hence it being a "poor" dish, in which the Tuscans back in the day found tasty ways to recycle every food bit.
If you've been to Tuscany and tried Pappa al Pomodoro, hopefully this recipe will bring a bit of its exuberance back into your life. If you've never tried it, give this recipe a go for a taste of Tuscany! Because the ingredients are simple and each flavor really shines through, I recommend being a little extra picky on the quality and freshness of ingredients you use. (But, I'll give you some cheats, see "Jenny's Notes" below.)
Pro tip: As you're pronouncing "pappa" really lay on those p's. If you say it too quickly, your Italian friends or Italian wanna-be friends might think you're talking about the Pope, whom they call "Papa." And a tomato Pope, at that, because, ya know, pomodoro means "tomato." :)
Recipe adapted from the cookbook "Toscana in Cucina The Flavours of Tuscany." Click on the link to the right for more delicious Tuscan dishes, with recipes in both English and Italian!
Pappa al Pomodoro
Serves about 4
6 Tbsp / 84g olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
1 lb. / 500g ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 pint / 1 liter vegetable broth
10 oz / 300g stale, crusted white bread, sliced thinly
several basil leaves, plus more for the garnish
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
salt and pepper, to taste
Sauté the garlic and oil in a large pan over medium-low heat, until sizzling and fragrant, ensuring it doesn't burn. Add a bit of crushed red pepper, then the tomatoes and basil.
Bring to a simmer; after a few minutes add the broth.
Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add the bread.
Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the pan from the heat and leave covered for about an hour.
When ready to serve, stir gently and drizzle with olive oil, dust with pepper, and top with a basil leaf or two.
*Wine Pairing from Toscana in Cucina: Muraccio - Parrina DOC Rosso - La Parrina, Albinia (Grosseto)
I know the bread description is a little vague, but you probably won't find the 1 kg hunk of unsalted Tuscan bread in your local grocery store in the States. You want a bread with a nice crust, if possible. You could look for a good ciabatta, or, that bread labeled "Italian" at the grocery store could always make do.
You could also use chicken or beef broth, but vegetable seems to be most commonly called for in the Italian recipes I've seen.
This freezes well for quick meals, simply bring to room temperature and heat before serving!
I do confess I've made this once very much modifying the freshness rule, and to my surprise it didn't turn out half shabby. Just promise me one thing. Make this the real way before going for the modified version. What follows is for emergency situations only. ;)
1/2 tsp garlic powder instead of garlic cloves
2. 16 oz jar tomato sauce instead of 1 lb. tomatoes (I've used sauces with grilled eggplant and even olives added to them for a satisfying twist.)
3. Plain ol' water instead of broth. You'll probably need to add extra salt and pepper, though.