Oswald Rivera

Author, Warrior, and Teacher

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Pappa al Pomodoro

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.

 

 

Ingredients

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

Parmesan cheese

  1. 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).
  2. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes.
  3. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Puerto Rican neighborhoods, the coquito flows during Las Fiestas Patronales, or the Feast of the Patron Saints, and Christmas. Every family has its own recipe. According to my elders, in olden times the success of a shindig was measured on the quality of the family coquito.

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Continue reading

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Pasteles (Part 2)

Pasteles are a singular creation made from common ingredients: root plants stuffed with meat. The meat is usually pork, but it can also be chicken or turkey. At home it’s prepared only on the most special occasions. When I returned home from Vietnam this was the first dish my mother made on honor of my arrival. If you’re traditional you have to use plantain leaves to wrap the thing. If they can’t be found, then wax paper will do. Plantain leaves are abundant in Caribbean and Asian markets. These days they come frozen wrapped in bundles of 12 or more. Believe me, there is a difference between pasteles made with plantain leaves and those wrapped in wax paper.
Continue reading

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