By Lana Buseman, Communications Design Specialist
Two years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to study in Florence, Italy and help to write a travel book on the countryside of Tuscany called Maremma. I was lucky enough to be in charge of the food and wine chapter, so in preparation to write this book, I had to make sure I was familiar with the subject matter! The most wonderful thing about the food in Italy is that it’s made with local and fresh ingredients. Another great thing about the food in Italy is that you couldn’t find a bad tomato if you tried. Italy just has the ideal climate for growing so many kinds of produce that even the simplest of dishes burst with flavor.
One of the greatest meals I ate (and went back for three times) during my five weeks in Florence was called Pappa al Pomodoro. It is a dish I never heard of until I went to Italy, but it’s very popular in Tuscan cuisine. I first ate this dish at a small, almost underground, restaurant right off the Ponte Vecchio called Buca dell’Orafo. In the traditional Italian cooking fashion, it is a simple recipe with only a few ingredients, but so delicious that a recent James Beard award winning chef chose to make this meal for the audience when he received his award.
The tomato, which is full of lycopene, a strong antioxidant which may have anti-cancer properties, is the star of this dish. While many vegetables and fruits lose their nutritional benefits when they are cooked, the concentration of lycopene in tomatoes is actually increased upon cooking.
Pappa al Pomodoro, literally meaning “bread and tomatoes,” is a soup that is almost thick enough to stand a fork in, but still has a lightness to it. It’s a perfect dish to warm you up on these rainy spring days but still remind you of the fresh ingredients that all this rain will bring!
- 5 lbs fresh Roma tomatoes,* or one 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped, juices reserved
- One medium onion, chopped
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 5 cups stale** bread (Italian bread is the best, but wheat bread can be substituted), roughly torn
- 2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- 1 bunch fresh Lacinato kale, Chard or spinach
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Red pepper flakes, optional
- Ricotta cheese, optional
*Fresh tomatoes will take more preparation time, but as they are coming in season, they would make this dish that much better. To use fresh tomatoes, bring a large pot of water to boil and put the tomatoes in for a few minutes. Transfer tomatoes to an ice bath and you will then be able to easily peel the skin off.
**To get “stale” bread, leave a loaf out on your counter overnight or roughly tear up fresh bread and place in a 200 degree oven until crispy. Bread must be dried out to play the right role in the recipe.
- In a large pot, begin to sauté onions in a teaspoon of oil until translucent, about 6-8 minutes.
Add chopped garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes, making sure not to let it burn.
- Pour chopped tomatoes and stock into the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes. Add red pepper flakes if you are using them.
- Stir bread and reserved tomato juices into the pot.
- Using a potato masher, or immersion blender, begin to mash tomatoes and bread. If you are using an immersion blender, do not puree completely. The soup is meant to be thick and full of texture. If the soup becomes too thick, add water.
- Once you have mashed your soup to a desired consistency, stir in basil and your greens until they have wilted down.
- Serve in shallow bowls with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and garnish with a basil leaf. Add a dollop of ricotta cheese for a creamier version!