Spring is upon us and that means that soon we’ll enjoy fresh, lush tomatoes denied to us in winter—unless you want to take a chance on those tasteless cellophane-wrapped things found in supermarkets. In fact, they taste like the cellophane they’re wrapped in. In winter, I mainly rely on Italian canned tomatoes, the only thing comparable to the summer stuff.
One of my favorite dishes at this time is a thick Tuscan tomato soup, papa al pomodoro. Now, here translations get tricky. “Papa” in Italian, is a phrase for “father.” Then we have Il Papa , which is the Pope. So could this soup translate as the “Pope’s soup?” My Italian friends tell me there is no reference to this dish having anything to do with the Pope. They say the closest thing one can refer to this soup is as a mash or “mush of tomatoes.” Whatever. The soup can be prepared with any spices on hand. But everyone agrees it usually contains garlic, olive oil, and basil. But the prime ingredient, apart from tomatoes, is bread, preferably stale or day-old bread. I’ve cooked this soup with fresh and stale bread and I’ve noticed no difference whatsoever in taste or texture. Wanna be traditional, use stale bread. Don’t have it, use fresh bread. Your call. Either way, it’s the perfect summertime dish served at room temperature.
Let me add that I like this soup thick, so I don’t use that much chicken broth (¾ cup is enough). If you prefer it soupier, you can add more broth as desired.
4 clove garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1-2 pounds ripe tomatoes (or 1 28-oz can Italian plum tomatoes), coarsely chopped
½ loaf of large baguette or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch chunks
¾ cup chicken broth or stock
2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
Ground black pepper to taste
- Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or skillet on medium-high heat. Add garlic and pepper flakes, and cook for about 30 seconds (do not let garlic get brown).
- Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes.
- Stir in bread, chicken broth, and basil. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 1 hour or more. Serve at room temperature, topped with additional olive oil, black pepper, and Parmesan cheese.
Yield: 4 servings.