This classic Tuscan bread and tomato soup, pappa al pomodoro, is super speedy, silky smooth, family friendly and works brilliantly for a lunch or dinner. It also freezes well, making it handy for quick after school and work dinners.
Italian soups have a much thicker texture than you may be used to, this one has a silky, loose porridgey texture that is so comforting. Just trust me, you’ll love it. I’ve had a few raised eyebrows when I’ve taught this – swiftly followed by eyes closed in delight when people taste it.
Some of the most classic Italian soup recipes have come from the days when soup was the easiest way to make a small amount of food fill a large amount of people easily and inexpensively. Traditionally Italian soups are thickened with beans, rice or stale bread.
Why stale bread
This soup, being thickened by bread, is a perfect way to use up stale bread rather than throw it away. Try to get into the habit of chopping any leftover good quality bread into chunks and freezing it in a plastic bag. You can use the chunks as croutons, to blitz into breadcrumbs or for soups like this.
The reason so many recipes call for day-old or stale bread is something most recipes don’t explain. So let me…When bread is fresh, it is soft because it has lots of moisture. Once it starts to stale, that moisture leaves and it dries out. So now it will act as a sponge and will seek to replace that lost moisture with whatever liquid flavours you want to introduce. Make sense?
And while we’re being frugal, a Parmesan rid thrown in with the tomatoes makes this soup extra delicious. When you finish a chunk of Parmesan, throw the rind in the freezer in a bag and use the rinds in Bolognese or stews for a savoury mellow cheese undertone.
Pappa al pomodoro ingredients
(serves 4 people as a main meal or 8 people as a starter)
- 2x 400g cans (2x 14.5oz) chopped or diced tomatoes – no added salt or herbs. You get what you pay for so splash out for this recipe as you really taste the tomatoes.
- 200g (½ lb) good quality, non-fluffy bread such as a ciabatta or pain de campagne. (You need about 3 handfuls of bread if that helps you picture the size of loaf)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- a large bunch of basil (around 75g or 3 oz), leaves and stalks
- 6 tablespoons of the best extra virgin olive oil you can find – again you get what you pay for, don’t scrimp on the quantity either
- water – the amount will vary depending on the type of bread you have
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- red wine vinegar to taste
- a Parmesan rind
- Rip or chop bread into chunks about the size of a walnut. Leave the crust on. Spread on a cutting board and set aside to dry out for an hour if the bread is fresh. If it is more than a day old you don’t need to leave it to dry out.
- Peel and slice garlic.
- Pull the leaves off basil stalks and set aside. Gather the stalks together and finely chop them.
- Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan on a medium high heat then add the sliced garlic and chopped basil stalks. Stir and cook for a minute until the garlic is softening. Don’t let the garlic go brown as it will taste bitter.
- Add the tomatoes to the pan and fill both the empty tomato tins with hot water then add the water to the tomatoes. Stir and add a pinch of sea salt. Bring to the boil then cover with a lid and drop the heat to a fast simmer. Continue to cook for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes, drop the temperature to low and add the bread to the pan. Stir and you’ll immediately see it thicken. Stir until the bread is soaking up the tomato and is starting to collapse. Keep stirring and adding water until you get a silky, loose porridgey texture.
- Remove from the heat, stir through the basil leaves and add around 6 tablespoons of olive oil. This adds to the silky texture and adds a lovely flavour too so don’t scrimp. Taste your soup and add sea salt, black pepper and a splash of red wine vinegar. Keep tinkering with the seasonings until you are happy with it then serve. You may like to grate some Parmesan on top but don’t tell the Tuscans as they wouldn’t approve.