Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pappa al pomodoro (I wish someone had told me about this sooner...)

I've always hated tomato soup. The ‘cream of tomato’ sort, that is. Actually, I hate any kind of homogeneous soup — butternut in particular. Just the thought of it makes me want to gag. I realise I’m in the vast, vast minority here — most people adore butternut soup — but I’ve always thought of it as a bland, partially digested kind of baby food. Same with cream of tomato, potato and, well, any soup that has seen the inside of a liquidiser. I like soup with personality. With texture. Give me a rough and ready ribollita over the insipid Purity variety any day.

That’s why I put off trying this glorious Italian dish for so long. Whenever I saw a picture of pappa al pomodoro (bread and tomato soup), along with the recipe, I imagined the end result being something that stuck in the throat; stodgy and pasty — more like soggy marshmallow than soup. I wish someone had set me straight. I wish someone had told me the texture is more silky than stodgy; gorgeously textured, rather than pasty; and with a fresh, full flavour that’s difficult to describe. You have to try it for yourself.

I’ve experimented with three pappa al pomodoro recipes — one from The River Café Cook Book and one from Jamie’s Italy — but the one I’m sharing with you now is, in my far-from-humble opinion, the best. Whereas Jamie, Rose and Ruth have stuck to the basic formula of tomatoes, bread, basil, garlic and olive oil, the recipe below includes leeks as well as stock, which add an extra dimension of flavour without detracting from the essential nature of the dish.

The recipe is from Beaneaters & Bread Soup: Portraits and Recipes from Tuscany. The authors, a husband (photos) and wife (words) ‘tell the story of Tuscan cooking through 25 visual and written portraits of some of Tuscany’s most extraordinary gastronomic and food-related artisans’. This book will make you sick with longing for the way of life they are trying to preserve in its pages.

This version of pappa al pomodoro was supplied by Gianluca Paoli, chef and proprietor of Coco Lezzone in Florence. This is a recipe by a respected Italian chef, who lives and works in Florence, so it’s little wonder it is superior to the other versions I tried (by non-natives).

I didn’t use home-made stock (I have — oh the shame! — grown accustomed to the convenience of Nomu’s range of concentrated liquid stock), but imagine home-made would bump up the flavour to a whole new level. But don’t put off making this dish if you only have powdered stock at home — the recipe will still work. Of course, you want to use good-quality crusty bread made with olive oil, not the cheap and nasty square 'government' loaves. That is essential.

Delicious, cheap and easy to prepare. I really don’t know what more you could ask of a soup.

Pappa al pomodoro
Serves 6 to 8

250ml olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 leeks, finely chopped
1 litre meat stock (made with beef and chicken)
2 litres puréed canned Italian tomatoes
500g day-old country bread (preferably unsalted), thickly sliced
Generous handful basil leaves, torn
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle

1. Warm the olive oil and garlic in a medium cooking pot. When the garlic has coloured slightly, add the leeks. Saute over a low heat for 20 minutes, adding water as necessary to keep the vegetables from turning brown.
2. Stir in the stock and puréed tomatoes and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
3. Turn off the heat and add the bread, pushing it into the liquid with a wooden spoon.
Stir in the torn basil leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper. Leave to rest for 30 minutes.
4. Now whisk the soup energetically until it has a porridge-like consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
5. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.

We had this soup for lunch, then reheated the leftovers for dinner and added chopped spinach and browned pork mince, and it was just delicious all over again.

Post script: I saw these gorgeous little Le Creuset mini cocottes over the weekend, and just had to take a picture. They are too adorable. I was informed by the shop assistant that they were only R500 for three. (Ahem.)

On the same occasion I encountered one of the Parlotones’ new wines. I couldn’t believe what they’d decided to call it — am I missing something? ‘Push Me to the Floor’ doesn’t exactly have the most desirabe connotations. What were they thinking? I understand it's probably the name of one of their songs, and I admit I didn’t read the label on the back, where there might have been a perfectly reasonable explanation for the title, but still... It doesn’t make the best first impression. Just saying.

Post, post script: check out my guest blog post on Chow and Chatter (love this blog): Chicken poached in rooibos with balsamic raisin relish


  1. This soup looks absolutely delightful! It looks so beautiful and appetizing!



  2. Le Creuset mini cocottes are adorable and I look at their kitten like puppy eye appeal every time I go to woolies :(

    As for the parlatones wine, I guess if you are a fan (or like me get stuck listening to radio on the way to/from work) you will know its a song and if you are a fan you would soooooooo want the sell out bands wine just like you would eat all the kfc meals in the world that have their pics on them

    I have a great recipe for a chinese tomatoe soup that is full of flavour and texture (mostly cause at the time I made it I didnt have a blending stick)

  3. You are right! This soup will go very well with my bread:D Looks delish! Love the reddish color! Yum!

  4. I too am wary of the stodge factor but you write so convincingly that I will have to try this.

    PS: Love your soup bowls - where did you find them?

  5. Oooo, it's best you do not go over to my gagging soup recipe then, he-he!!!
    I made almos the identical soup last week, will still post. I love the plate of soup....and of course the soup dish is awesome!!

  6. Stodge factor depends entirely on the bread. If you use good quality bread, this dish will sing. I bought the plates at @home yesterday (6/6) at Cavendish, and am deeply in love with them.

  7. This soup looks great! I love the idea of adding bread and all the other ingredients; I have never had anything like it and would love to try!

  8. Robyn - this is one of those recipes that I've always meant to make, but never got around to. Now I definitely will, after you've sourced the best recipe! I have some leeks, Nomu Stock, tomatoes... oh cripes no proper bread. Okay, will have to wait and be bookmarked. I think the bread is essential. I get good results from cooking with leftover Olympia bakery ciabatta.

  9. this is fate! L just walked in with a ciabatta. Okay so I am making soup now and will report tomorrow.

  10. The soup looks extremely tasty, dear Robyn!!

    Your soup rocks!!

  11. There is a WORLD of difference between your heavenly pappa al pomodoro and canned tomato soup.

  12. I've never tried this for the fact that I am not a tomato soup fan either. I will take your advice and give this recipe a try as my husband is a big tomato fan.

  13. Excellent! The dish looks wonderful and thanks for the book tip. I am always looking out for sources of true to form regional cuisine. This is perfect with our sun ripened fresh off the vine tomatoes!

  14. I love homogeneous soups but I know what you mean I hate having plain soups in summer. This Tuscan recipe sounds divine!

  15. I'm not the biggest soup lover has to be REALLY good for me to like it. I've only had really amazing butternut soup once in a my life, at a really REALLY nice restaurant. Other than that, it's hard to come by.

    I love the texture of this! It looks lovely.

  16. What a lovely soup. I must give it a try. Those mini Le Creuset cocottes are darling. I would love one in each color.

  17. Love pappa al pomodoro! I'm going to Tuscany next week, so I'm looking forward to eating lots of it!

  18. Found this on foodgawker and just wanted to compliment you on the food photography. That neat-looking bowl is a nice touch.

  19. The soup looks gorgeous. I felt the same way abotu gazpacho, until hubby made a batch and I ate it hot off the press (so to speak!). Incredible!

    The Parlotones wine is indeed named after their song and is a joint venture between the band and some indie winemakers Hands on Wine. The name may be ill advised, but the band actually got involved in the blending, and didn't just put their names on the bottle. Hats off to them, I say!