A fresh, homestyle recipe for Tuscan tomato soup, using ripe tomatoes, basil and crusty bread. Simple, hearty and delicious.
Tuscan tomato soup with bread, pappa al pomodoro, is a traditional Italian peasant dish that’s all about capturing the fleeting essence of ripe tomatoes, then getting the heck out of the way.
Bread soup uses just a few ingredients that go a long way — it’s basically a type of thick, savory porridge. It’s rich and tasty with not much more than tomatoes, olive oil and seasoning.
It’s one of my favorite recipes, showing that even the most simply prepared food can often be the most satisfying and memorable.
In her book Flavors of Tuscany Nancy Harmon Jenkins stresses the importance of using “red, utterly ripe tomatoes” preferably from a farmstand or your own garden to make this soup, the way it’s done on location in Italy. Okaaaay.
I don’t know about you, but my attempts at tomato gardening have mostly turned out badly. The cute, rainbow-colored cherry tomatoes I cultivated on my deck one summer became snacks for hungry squirrels, and the fancy heirlooms I tried planting in raised beds produce more sprawling foliage than fruit.
Every summer when I visit my local markets to buy tomatoes, I’m always amazed that some talented person with green (red) thumbs was able to produce something so good.
There’s that taste of TOMATO that’s hard to describe, with a flavor that has nothing to do with the greenhouse-grown tomatoes we’re used to for the rest of the year.
Sweet, meaty, tart, fruity and savory all at once.
When you get your hands on tomato beauties like that, it’s best to just enjoy them. Slice them thick and sprinkle with a little salt, pile them on a plate along with blobs of creamy fresh mozzarella cheese. When you’ve had your fill of that, take the next step and make this soup.
Tuscan tomato soup tips:
- Use a crusty loaf of bread for the base of the soup. If you don’t have leftover bread, slice a loaf into cubes and toast on a baking sheet in a 300-degree oven for about 20 minutes to dry it out.
- If you’d rather not haul out your blender or don’t have one, instead combine bread cubes, water, olive oil, garlic and salt in a large bowl and let sit for 30 minutes to absorb the liquid. Mash with a wooden spoon. It doesn’t need to be absolutely smooth.
- Peeling the tomatoes is mostly for looks. Go ahead and skip the blanching step if you enjoy the texture of the whole tomato.
fresh tuscan tomato soup with bread and basil (pappa al pomodoro)
Yield 4 - 6 servings
A fresh, homestyle recipe for Tuscan tomato soup, using ripe tomatoes, basil and crusty bread. Simple, hearty and delicious!
- 3 pounds ripe tomatoes
- 4 cups cubed day-old crusty bread
- 2/3 cup water
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with blade of a knife
- Kosher salt
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Handful fresh basil leaves, torn or roughly chopped
- Fill a 4 or 5 quart pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Drop in the tomatoes and cook one or two minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Use a small sharp knife to slit the skins on the bottom of tomatoes, then slip off the skins. Roughly chop and transfer to a bowl, along with any juice they exude.
- Put half of the bread cubes in a blender along with the water, 1/4 cup olive oil, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Blend to form a smooth paste.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the pot and place over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook until onion is very soft, but not browned.
- Add tomatoes to the pan with the sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste. Bring to a slow simmer. Continue cooking tomatoes until they become very soft. Using a wooden spoon, mash the tomatoes into a coarse puree.
- Add the bread mixture to the tomatoes and stir. If the soup seems very thick, add a little bit more water to thin it out. The texture should be dense and creamy, but still spoonable. Cook for a few minutes, then remove from the heat.
- Drizzle olive oil over the remaining bread cubes. Put them in a skillet over medium-high heat and toast until golden and crisp, stirring them around, for about 5 minutes.
- Taste the soup and season with additional salt and pepper. Garnish with the toasted bread and basil leaves. Serve warm or at room temperature.