Ten years ago, I lived in Florence, Italy, on a cobble-stoned street one block from Santa Croce. The piazza in front of the weathered church was always filled with pigeons and young Italian couples drinking wine and making out. Old men filled the benches that surrounded the square, and children played tag in front of them.
It was really that quaint.
One block from this piazza is a wonderful trattoria called Baldovino. It’s rumored to be owned by the brother of actor Hugh Grant. It was here that I first had Pappa al Pomodoro and immediately tried to recreate it in our semi-functional kitchen that same week.
Fortunately, it’s very simple.
The hearty soup is derived from Tuscany, the region in which Florence sits. Historically, it was made by poor farmers because of its easily accessible ingredients: stale bread and overripe tomatoes. While the men would work the fields, the women would prepare dinner using whatever meager resources they had.
Today, as the frost threatens the last of those tomato crops and the farmers’ stands are about to shutter for the winter, it’s the most delicious way to use up lots of tomatoes for a soup that’s ideal on these chilly nights.
Because the soup is so filling, it can be served alone. Of course in Italy, the zuppa is a primi, or first course of many, many dishes. (Don’t’ be fooled by the term “first course,” the Italians like to warm up with antipasti and a drink too). This is followed by a secondi, usually the main entree consisting of meat; a contorno, a vegetable side dish; insalata, the finishing mixed salad; cheese and fruit, a sweet dessert and an espresso. All of this gets washed down with a digestivo.
It’s heaven and it’s exhausting.
This week, I wanted soup for the first time in months, and started to reminisce about that fall in Europe. Picking the last of the tomatoes from my tiny garden, I remembered there was a half loaf of Udi’s olive bread inside that was perfectly old. Combined with an onion and some garlic from the market and a handful of basil, we had the makings for Leftover Soup.
Cue the Chianti.
1. Brown one onion and three cloves of garlic in six spoonfuls of olive oil in a large pot.
2. Add 8 ounces of tomato paste and two to three tomatoes diced into chunks (cherry tomatoes work too). Add a handful of freshly chopped basil.
3. Continue stirring and let it boil. Add salt and pepper.
4. On another burner, bring one liter of vegetable broth to a boil, and add 3 cups of chopped bread (the crustier, the better). Let it simmer until the broth is absorbed by the bread.
5. When all the bread is soaked up and bread is like mush, add to the tomato sauce.
6. Stir. Serve into individual bowls, and drizzle olive oil on top. Then sprinkle with fresh parmesan cheese and mangia!