I spent five months in Italy my junior year of college, and like any self-respecting foodie, I ate A LOT. To me, as important as the Renaissance art and painting which I was there to study, was the culinary artistry in every kitchen, enotecca and trattoria. I had to buy bigger pants while I was there.
But I have to say, probably my most memorable food experience from that time was of a meal eaten standing up. I was shopping at the Central Mercato in Florence, and realizing that my hungry belly was making for excessive purchasing decisions, I stopped for a simple bowl of soup at the cafe counter to tide me over. Thank goodness I did, because I will never forget that soup. My mouth waters when I think of it.
The soup was called Pappa al Pomodoro and it was perfection. It was simple in preparation, with excellent quality olive oil, fruity tomatoes and fresh basil. It was thickened with traditional unsalted Tuscan bread transforming basic ingredients into sublime velvet. It was the essence of Italian cooking with very high quality ingredients but completely simple in preparation. It warmed me from the inside out as I stood shoulder to shoulder with Italians stopping in to have a quick coffee.
I often wistfully think of the Mercato when I am at the grocery store these days. There is no comparison. But at least at this time of year the produce is all local and beautiful even here. Especially the tomatoes. They are irresistible.
The other evening, I was whisking through our local grocery with my daughters after school. I didn’t have a plan for dinner. My eyes fell on a large crate fresh locally grown San Marzano plum tomatoes. I don’t think I have ever seen fresh San Marzanos, but when I saw them I immediately thought of Pappa al Pomodoro.
So when we got home I made a batch for dinner. We also had “cheesy bread” because I had some of this amazing cheddar in our fridge. It was a clean plate club night for the whole family. And for a moment I was back at the counter in the Mercato eating that perfect bowl of Pappa al Pomodoro.
Simple Italian Tomato Soup thickened with bread seasoned with basil and olive oil.
- 10 plum tomatoes, about 2 ½ pounds
- 2 tablespoons best quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large sweet onion, diced
- 1 ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon dry thyme
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 1 32-ounce box low sodium broth, vegetable or chicken or home made stock
- 2 slices bread, crusts removed, cut into cubes (or more for thicker soup)
- 2 tablespoons basil
- Peel and seed tomatoes. Reserve juices.
- Swirl 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed soup add garlic and onion, and place pot over medium-high heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is soft but not brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in salt and thyme and cook, stirring until the thyme is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add wine, increase heat to high, and boil until the wine is reduced by about a half, about 4 minutes.
- Stir in broth, the tomatoes and any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes are broken down and soft, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Stir in bread and basil, and remove from the heat. Puree in batches until completely smooth. Serve drizzled with olive oil.
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